I grew up in a family who had to stretch their money the best way they could. So I understand those in our nation who labor hard to pay their monthly bills. As our economy continues to struggle, the President and his congressional allies are proposing another hike in the federal minimum wage. I have already written about the racist roots of the minimum wage. The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 was intentionally designed to prevent blacks from being hired for federally funded work projects. Raising the minimum wage also raises the cost of all kinds of goods and services for consumers, rich and poor: if the grocery store has to pay more to have its shelves stocked, it will have to raise the price of groceries. And I have also written about how raising the minimum wage will undoubtedly raise unemployment rates among the lowest skilled workers.
This third concern was raised in a recent report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which analyzed the probable effects of the proposed minimum wages increases. The report stated that the changes would most likely eliminate at least 500,000 jobs (or as many as 1 million) by the time they were in full effect. In return, they would raise the annual income of families in poverty by about $300 a year.
Today, the black unemployment rate remains over twice the unemployment rate of whites, and the unemployment rate of black teenagers is over 43%. These two figures are undoubtedly linked: a few years of steady employment make anyone’s resume more attractive to employers in a competitive job market. Adults without a college diploma or helpful family connections are most likely going to remain unemployed if they have no work experience.
But if the minimum wage continues to rise, the entry level job will become a thing of the past. When I was young, it was normal for teenagers to offer eagerly to cut your lawn, shovel your driveway or babysit your children for a couple of bucks. This was a time-honored rite of passage: you started with odd jobs and maybe worked your way up to a paper route or a steady job at McDonalds. This gave you spending money, or maybe even helped out with the bills, because back then Mom and Dad weren’t willing (or able) to hand you fifty bucks to go out with your friends.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.