EDITORIAL: The higher the minimum wage, the fewer opportunities for youth

Congressional Democrats, with the support of President Barack Obama, are preparing their latest assault on opportunity: legislation to gradually increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour, then tie the figure to inflation.

Their rallying cry is a familiar one: lifting the fortunes of entry-level workers, who can’t support a family on the current minimum wage. Never mind that minimum-wage jobs are supposed to be a first step on the economic ladder, a chance for the unskilled to prove they can show up on time and perform basic tasks. Now it must be a “living” wage?

Far from providing a better standard of living, higher minimum wages actually limit the employment prospects of the people who need work experience the most. The country has a teen employment crisis, and a dramatically higher minimum wage will only make it worse.

In 1999, 52 percent of Americans ages 16 to 19 worked a summer job. This year, the number dropped to 32 percent. The country’s overall unemployment rate stands at 7.3 percent, thanks to the lowest labor participation rate in 35 years. The jobless rate for teens is 22.2 percent, and for black teens it’s 36 percent, the highest of any demographic. For these Americans, the inability to gain early work experience will limit their earning potential for the rest of their lives.

Moreover, research by Northeastern University’s Andrew Sum found that teens from low-income families are less likely to find jobs than teens from high-income families. The higher the minimum wage, the more important it will be for teens to have connections to business owners and managers in charge of hiring.

Already, states including Nevada have instituted minimum wages higher than the federal standard. A new federal minimum wage will drive those wages even higher. Many businesses won’t be able to afford it. Their prices will rise and jobs will disappear.

This country needs economic policies that encourage job creation and opportunity. A higher minimum wage limits both.

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