Washington Policy Center Spouts Minimum Wage Nonsense

In a guest column in today’s Seattle Times, the Washington Policy Center spouts nonsense that Washington State’s minimum wage’s minimal increase of 12 cents next year is going to push young people out of the work force. It’s nonsense because it’s not backed up by any facts.  The author selectively uses numbers to try to imply that it is somehow causal. Just citing numbers doesn’t prove anything.

The headline in the print edition claims “Minimum-wage increase pushes young people out of work force” The Internet accessible copy states “Washington minimum wage is on the rise and hurting young people’s prospects”. Neither headline is supported by any facts.

This column by the free market think tank Washington Policy Center is just another  example of the selective use of numbers by the right wing to distort what is happening. It is an attempt to distort policy discussions by throwing in numbers to try to imply a factual basis for conclusions that are not supported by any facts.

The author trys to make his case based on a number that the unemployment figure for 16 to 24 year olds is 20% and that somehow this is related to having a minimum wage. No reference is cited for the numbers used.

I question including 16 – 18 year olds in unemployment figures. These people should be in school. What 16 year old do you know who is a high school graduate? Hence they are unskilled workers, undereducated, competing in a high unemployment market against people with a high school education or previous experience.

Check out the unemployment numbers yourself and you’ll see very different figures and age breakdowns from those cited by the Washington Policy Center. The national tables break out 16 -19 year olds as a separate category which makes more sense than breaking out 16 to 24 year olds.

.Here is the most recent Economic News Release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics entitled “Employment Status of the Civilian Population by race, sex and age.”

Checking the reference above the Bureau of  Labor Statistics breaks out the black or African American population and cites ages 16 – 19 both sexes unemployment rate of 48% for Oct 2010.

For black men 20 and over the rate is 16.3%.

For whites, both sexes, aged 16 -19, the unemployment rate is 23.6%

For white men, 20 years or older the unemployment rate is 8.9%.

What does all this have to do with the minimum wage? The author’s claim raising the minimum wage is somehow contributing to high unemployment for youth is not supported by the use of the data they cite or data from  the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is pure speculation not backed up by any facts. The Washington Policy Center is a free market think tank and opposes government regulations and laws like setting a minimum wage.

The reality is that many people are unemployed. If employers have an option of hiring a high school graduate or an older person with experience versus a 16 year old,  they are going to probably hire the high school graduate or experienced person.

Young people are better off going to school. They will have higher incomes over their lifetimes. Most minimum wage jobs are dead ends or last resorts.

The headline of this article is not supported by any facts.

More likely, lack of an education or high school diploma and lack of job skills keeps young people out of the work force, especially in a market where there is high unemployment in general and more skilled older people are out of work and competing for the same job.

Besides any other considerations, the reality is that a the minimum wage of $8.67/hour translates to just $346.80 per week or $18,364 per year if you work every week or get any paid time off, like a vacation. This is gross pay, not net. It is pre-tax and pre-social security. Hardly overwhelming.

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