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.