EDITORIAL: Boosting minimum wage will make matters worse

To have any chance of keeping their power and their jobs beyond 2014, Washington’s Democrats have to distract the voting public from the party’s Obamacare debacle. Part one of that plan: going all-in for an increase in the federal minimum wage, from $7.25 per hour to $10.10.

In other words, to deflect attention from one policy disaster, Democrats are pushing another.

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the national unemployment rate had dropped to 6.7 percent. For those ages 16 to 24, it remains in the 15-16 percent range, and for those ages 16 to 19, it’s even higher. However, none of those numbers reflect the labor force participation rate — the share of the population working or actively looking for work.

The unemployment rate is going down not because of rapid job creation, but because more and more Americans have given up looking for work. For the young, the labor participation rate has been in precipitous decline.

According to the BLS, the participation rate for 16- to 24-year-olds in December was 54.8 percent, down more than 11 points since 2000 (65.9 percent). For 16- to 19-year-olds, the rate was a paltry 33.8 percent in December, down by a whopping 22 percentage points since 1989 (55.8 percent).

This points to one of the biggest problems with the effort to increase the minimum wage: It won’t help the unemployed at all. In fact, it’s more likely to make unemployment worse.

Almost half of all minimum-wage earners are younger than 25, and a good share of minimum wage-jobs are nothing more than an entry into the workforce — not so-called “living wage” jobs intended to support a household. Still more minimum wage earners collect most of their income from tips.

Young workers, and teenagers in particular, need to develop basic job skills — interacting with co-workers and customers, showing up on time and consistently completing basic tasks for which employers generally can’t pay $10.10 an hour. If anything, more states should adopt a youth training wage, which is allowable under federal law for workers younger than 20 during their first three months on the job, but is in rare use.

Today, Democrats tout a higher minimum wage as a new front in the 50-year war on poverty, but the plan amounts to a surrender. It will further limit opportunities for teens seeking a first job, setting them up for a lifetime of depressed earnings. The skill set of a typical 16-year-old simply isn’t worth $10 an hour, especially when so many 20-, 30- and 40-something Americans are still looking for any work they can get.

Democrats are desperate to keep the support of younger voters, who are struggling to find good jobs and are expected to subsidize the health care of older, sicker Americans through higher insurance premiums. But an increased minimum wage will only add to their misery.

Republicans already are being characterized by the left as heartless for opposing such a big increase in the minimum wage. But those opposed to this plan are actually displaying common sense and compassion, because they want more Americans, especially young citizens, to be able to find jobs. And they certainly don’t want more people to lose jobs.

The Obama administration’s five-year record is marked by failures and broken promises: the stimulus, Obamacare, “green jobs,” foreign policy, transparency. Why would anyone believe the president’s pledge that a higher minimum wage will reduce poverty? Obamacare was supposed to reduce health care costs and increase choice but accomplished precisely the opposite. Likewise, a higher minimum wage, instead of boosting wages and overall consumer spending, will actually eliminate jobs and limit opportunity.

Democrats often claim their policies are good “for the children.” If they want children to ultimately get jobs and become productive adults with more opportunities for success, Democrats will drop their minimum-wage kick and push for pro-growth economic policies that allow businesses to hire more workers of all ages.

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