What about jobs?


In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, President Barack Obama made a few favorable references to his erstwhile opponent, Mitt Romney.

But any move to the middle seems to have ended there. Mr. Obama already had signaled the week before that he would “aim to work around an uncooperative Congress” (in the words of Washington Post reporter Zachary Goldfarb) by enacting many proposals — from tougher regulations on coal-fired power plants to new protections for gays and lesbians — through what the Post calls Mr. Obama’s “increasingly aggressive use of executive authority.”

The problem with this avoidance of debate and compromise is that the loyal opposition has a point: Much of Mr. Obama’s command-and-control agenda not only has failed before, but it could further cripple job creation.

The president vowed nothing he was proposing in his speech would “increase our deficit by a single dime.” He then proposed at least 29 new government programs, including federally subsidized preschool for every 4-year-old in America.

But as bad as Washington’s trillion-dollar deficits are, the real job killers in the president’s speech — coming on top of the burgeoning costs of ObamaCare — were his calls for “equal pay” and for a higher minimum wage: $9 an hour for starters, and then indexed to inflation to outlaw successively more start-up jobs as time goes by. (In Nevada, the minimum wage is $1 per hour higher than the federal standard for employees who do not receive medical benefits. How many more restaurant and tavern jobs would disappear with a $10-per-hour minimum wage?)

Compiling truths now embraced by most economists, Harvard University’s Greg Mankiw says there is 79 percent agreement among his peers that “a minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers” — ranking just below the fact that a “large federal budget deficit has an adverse effect on the economy,” at 83 percent.

“Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to nine dollars an hour,” the president said.

But economists have demonstrated that hardly anyone tries to raise a family on the minimum wage. Rather, low-income jobs provide a bottom step on the ladder for young and inexperienced workers, who quickly earn raises as they improve their usefulness to employers.

One of the terrible ironies here: The most pernicious effects of a high minimum wage — a sop to the labor unions who have long considered Mr. Obama their go-to guy — are felt among minority youth, who already struggle mightily to reach that “bottom rung.”

While the overall U.S. unemployment rate stands at 8.1 percent, African-American unemployment is now at 14.1 percent, and the official unemployment rate for black youth ages 18 to 29 is 22.3 percent.

Then Mr. Obama urged Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Make no mistake: The idea that a woman with equal qualifications should be offered less to do the same job as a man is unacceptable. It’s also been virtually unheard of in America for decades, in part because it’s already illegal. Instead, what the president and those on the far left propose is a remedy for the fact that women sometimes earn less over their lifetimes.

So the proposal has government force private employers to pay some women more (or some men less) for what some bureaucrat decides is a job “equivalent” to a different job held by a man — a job that requires different training or which fewer people want to do, and which the private employer thus finds harder to fill.

Such a step could indeed create more jobs — but unfortunately, only among the class of attorneys retained to fight ginned-up discrimination lawsuits. Diverting employer cash and energies into this new bureaucratic maze is supposed to help overall employment?

Let’s have less of this “increasingly aggressive use of executive authority,” please. Mr. Obama should submit his plans to Congress for open debate. For the job of Congress is not only to pass laws, but also to air and reject bad and harmful ideas, no matter how nice they may sound at first.

 

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