Minimum wage hike has driven the wages of teen employees down to $0.00

Look at this chart carefully. This is NOT teen unemployment – it is the GAP between teens and the population.

Yesterday’s September labor market report was lousy by any measure, with 263,000 lost jobs and the jobless rate climbing to 9.8%. But for one group of Americans it was especially awful: the least skilled, especially young workers.

Washington will deny the reality, and the media won’t make the connection, but one reason for these job losses is the rising minimum wage.

Earlier this year, economist David Neumark of the University of California, Irvine, wrote on these pages that the 70-cent-an-hour increase in the minimum wage would cost some 300,000 jobs. Sure enough, the mandated increase to $7.25 took effect in July, and right on cue the August and September jobless numbers confirm the rapid disappearance of jobs for teenagers.

According to new numbers from the Labor Department in 2008 only 1.1% of Americans who work 40 hours a week or more even earned the minimum wage. In other words, 98.9% of 40-hour-a-week workers earn more than the minimum. The data also show that teenagers are five times more likely to earn the minimum wage than adults. Minimum wage jobs are nearly all first-time or part-time jobs, and an estimated two of every three minimum wage workers get a pay raise within a year on the job.

Study after study reveals that there are long-term career benefits to working as a teenager and that these benefits go well beyond the pay that these youths receive. A study by researchers at Stanford found that those who do not work as teenagers have lower long-term wages and employability even after 10 years. A high-wage society can only come by making workers more productive, and by destroying starter jobs the minimum wage may reduce long-term earnings.

Another recent study across 17 OECD nations, also by Messrs. Neumark and Wascher, found a highly negative association between higher minimum wages and youth employment rates. But it also concluded that having a starter wage, well below the minimum, counteracts much of this negative jobs impact. If Congress won’t suspend its recent minimum wage hike, it should at least create a teenage wage of $4 or $5 an hour to help put hundreds of thousands of teens back to work. White House chief economic adviser Larry Summers has endorsed this in the past. Without this change, expect the teen unemployment to remain very high for a long time.

The wonder of it all is that liberals still call “progressive” a policy that has driven the wages of hundreds of thousands of the lowest skilled workers down to $0.00.

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