EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

March 30, 2014

Column: Put teens to work by laying off minimum-wage rhetoric

I can tell spring is in the air.

Not because of the weather, at least in most of the country, where winter isn’t letting go. It’s in the air because, just as inevitably as crocuses, forsythia and robins appear, you once again hear mayors and governors whining about how there aren’t going to be enough summer jobs for teens.

Of course, the lack of work is always the fault of “major employers” who aren’t “stepping up to the plate” and “creating jobs” that magically last just long enough for the summer season; are designed for young people who have marginal skills; and won’t displace or even reduce the hours of any regular employees.

It will just be incidental, of course, that those jobs will make those politicians look good to their constituents. If the teen job market was booming, mayors and governors would be clamoring for credit. When it’s not so good, well, it is obviously the private sector’s fault.

Apparently it is a mystery to them why, nearly five years after the recession officially ended, the national unemployment rate for teens is more than 20 percent while the official rate for the entire workforce has declined to around 7 percent.

Certainly a piece of that gap comes from highly misleading statistics about overall unemployment. As economists of all political persuasions point out, “official” unemployment statistics don’t count those who have become so discouraged that they have quit looking for work, or those who are underemployed. Actual unemployment is more like double the official rate.

That means, as it is delicately phrased, a “still-weak” job market drives older, more experienced workers to take jobs that might otherwise be available to teens.

The other, much bigger factor is something over which politicians have more control – a factor they studiously ignore and try to help the public ignore by pointing at the private sector: It is that the political class dictates to the private sector what it must pay entry-level workers through a mandated minimum wage. They hope you will ignore the connection between them making it more expensive to hire workers and the number of jobs that are available.

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