Now that Obama’s calling for a 24% increase in the minimum wage to $9 per hour, it might be instructive to review what happened the last time the minimum wage was increased – from $5.15 per hour in 2007 to $7.25 in 2009 (in three stages, see chart). Those most affected by increases in the minimum wage are the least skilled, least experienced, and least educated workers, i.e. teenage workers. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out in 2010:
“A higher minimum wage has the biggest impact on those with the least experience or the fewest skills. That means in particular those looking for entry-level jobs, especially teenagers. And sure enough, as nearly all economic models predict, the higher minimum has wreaked havoc with teenage job seekers, well beyond what you would expect even in a recession.”
And that’s exactly what happened when the minimum wage rose by 41% between 2007 and 2009 – it had a disastrous effect on teenagers. The jobless rate for 16-19 year olds increased by ten percentage points, from about 16% in 2007 to more than 26% in 2009. Of course, the overall US jobless rate was increasing at the same time, from about 5% to 10%. Therefore, the graph attempts to better isolate the effects of the minimum wage increases between 2007 and 2009 on teenagers by plotting the difference between the teenage jobless rate and the overall jobless rate, i.e. “excess teen unemployment,” and the minimum wage.
During the 2002-2007 period when the minimum wage was $5.15 per hour, teenage unemployment exceeded the national jobless rate by about 11% on average. Each of the three minimum wage increases was accompanied by a 2 percentage point increase in the amount that the teenage jobless rate exceeded the overall rate, from 11 to 13% after the 2007 increase from $5.15 to $5.85 per hour, from 13% to 15% following the second hike to $6.55 per hour, and from 15% to 17% following the last increase to $7.25. The 17.5% “excess teen unemployment” in October 2009 was the highest on record, going back to at least 1972, and was almost 5 percent higher than the peak teen jobless rate gap following the last recession (12.7% in June 2003).
Bottom Line: Artificially raising wages for unskilled workers reduces the demand for those workers at the same time that it increases the number of unskilled workers looking for work, which results in an excess supply of unskilled workers. Period. And another term for an “excess supply of unskilled workers” is an “increase in the teenage jobless rate.” Despite the wishful thinking of politicians like President Obama, the laws of supply and demand are not optional. The recent history of raising the minimum wage demonstrates its disproportionate negative effect on the least skilled, least experienced and least educated workers – teenagers. And if the minimum wage is raised to $9 per hour, we can expect further increases in teenage joblessness, which can have long-term consequences that might adversely affect teenagers throughout their lifetimes. Here’s how the WSJ explains that possibility:
“Most readers remember the work habits they learned from their first job. Showing up on time, being courteous to customers, learning how to use technology—such habits are often more valuable than the actual paycheck. Studies have confirmed that when teens work during summer months or after school they have higher lifetime earnings than those who don’t work. So raising the minimum wage may inadvertently reduce lifetime earnings.”