Thomas Sowell reacted to Mitt Romney’s advocacy of a strengthened minimum wage law in his editorial, “A Defining Moment”. It clarifies our problem with a “compassionate conservative”.
But I’ll skip over quibbling with Romney; I’d rather take a moment to highlight the meat of Sowell’s statement:
We have gotten so used to seeing unemployment rates of 30 or 40 percent for black teenage males that it might come as a shock to many people to learn that the unemployment rate for sixteen- and seventeen-year-old black males was just under 10 percent back in 1948. Moreover, it was slightly lower than the unemployment rate for white males of the same age.
Really? I had to go look that up. I found this article, “The Minimum Wage: Teen-age Job Killer”, including a chart based on numbers from the Bureau of Labor. It’s an old chart, but it snapshots the era when the unemployment exploded.
Interesting. Sowell explains…
The economic reason is quite plain. The inflation of the 1940s had pushed money wages for even unskilled, entry-level labor above the level specified in the minimum wage law passed ten years earlier. In other words, there was in practical effect no national minimum wage law in the late 1940s.
Liberals were of course appalled that the federal minimum wage law had lagged so far behind inflation — and, in 1950, they began a series of escalations of the minimum wage level over the years.
It was in the wake of these escalations that black teenage unemployment rose to levels that were three or four times the level in 1948. Even in the most prosperous years of later times, the unemployment rate for black teenage males was some multiple of what it was even in the recession year of 1949. And now it was often double the unemployment rate for white males of the same ages.
I was a kid once. I was pretty much of a blockhead, and not worth a lot of money. I bet most of you were in the same boat. But making a few bucks doing a disgusting janitorial job (mopping up in an old folks’ home, if you must know) was quite a fortune for me at the time. It sounds like a cliché to say that doing the trash work improved my character, but it was part of the process.
I’m not arguing, and I’m sure Sowell isn’t arguing, for the return of the sort of oppressive racism of the mid-20th century. But are we better off today, having “protected” people to such an extent that they can’t get jobs? We’ve spent fifty years battling bad racism with “good racism”, and all we have to show for it is a greater misery index and a lot more people depending upon assistance. But we pat ourselves on the back and pledge to keep marching towards a utopia that cannot be reached, and never mind the human cost.