With Democrats cratering in the polls over their collapsing health care law, they are trying to pivot to the only part of their policy agenda that still enjoys broad public support: the minimum wage. But their advocacy and its popularity rest on the incorrect belief that a significant number of families live on the minimum wage. Instead, the primary impact would be to exacerbate a crisis of youth unemployment spurred largely by the last minimum wage increase.
A recent analysis by Ben Gitis of the American Action Forum found that just 1.9 percent of all wage and salary earners make the minimum wage or less. Just 0.3 percent of people in families with incomes below the poverty line make the minimum wage or less -- and just 1.5 percent make less than $10.10, the level that Democrats have suggested for the next hike. Applying the most recent academic research, Gitis also found that such an increase would reduce employment by more than two million jobs.
Many of those jobs are the first work experience for teenagers and young adults. Gitis found 36.6 percent of minimum wage workers are teenagers. The liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research found that more than 60 percent of fast food workers - the heart of liberal advocacy efforts - are 24 or younger.
The minimum wage has already priced a scandalously large number of young Americans out of jobs, denying them crucial work experience and the first step on the ladder of economic opportunity. While unemployment for adults age 25 and over has now dropped to 6.2 percent, the teenage unemployment rate is still over 20 percent and the unemployment rate for workers 20 to 24 is 11.6 percent.
Since 1948, when the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking it, 20 percent teenage unemployment has been mostly unthinkable. It didn't happen for a single month from 1948 until May of 1975, when the mark was reached for a brief fourth month stretch against the backdrop of an increasing minimum wage.
It happened again for just over two years from October 1981 to November 1983 (and briefly again for two months in 1985) - just after the 1977 minimum wage increase was fully phased in - a 45 percent jump from $2.30 to $3.35.
We saw 20 percent teen unemployment again for eight out of twelve months in 1992 following the 27 percent increase in the minimum wage that took effect in 1990 and 1991.
Phil Kerpen is president of American Commitment, a columnist on Fox News Opinion, chairman of the Internet Freedom Coalition, and author of the 2011 book Democracy Denied.
American Commitment is dedicated to restoring and protecting America’s core commitment to free markets, economic growth, Constitutionally-limited government, property rights, and individual freedom.
Washingtonian magazine named Mr. Kerpen to their "Guest List" in 2008 and The Hill newspaper named Mr. Kerpen a "Top Grassroots Lobbyist" in 2011.
Mr. Kerpen's op-eds have run in newspapers across the country and he is a frequent radio and television commentator on economic growth issues.
Prior to joining American Commitment, Mr. Kerpen served as vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity. Mr. Kerpen has also previously worked as an analyst and researcher for the Free Enterprise Fund, the Club for Growth, and the Cato Institute.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Kerpen currently resides in Washington, D.C. with his wife Joanna and their daughter Lilly.