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How the Minimum Wage Hurts Underdogs

Just yesterday, the District of Columbia raised its minimum wage to $11.50. Across the country, many others are demanding that wages be hiked. Yet despite its popularity, the minimum wage is one of my least favorite things because it ends up hitting young people hardest, both financially and in skill-building, and I care about underdogs like young people; in part, because I’ve experienced its effects myself.

Minimum Wage Jobless Rate

I got married right out of college, and we moved to DC since I had a good job offer. Once there, my husband started to look for work. He had no experience in the predominant DC professions—media and politics. So he thought he might like to learn a hands-on trade. He has an excellent mathematical and spatial mind, enjoys working with his hands and skilled tradesmen earn a good wage. But he was repeatedly turned down for such jobs because his labor wasn’t yet worth what employers were forced to pay him under minimum wage laws (which were higher than the national minimum in Maryland, where we lived at the time).

[pullquote]     Underdogs need to be given a chance. Sadly, a minimum wage makes chances far more expensive, and thus far less likely.[/pullquote]

One employer, who custom-built wood boats, told my husband he’d like to hire him because he seemed to have a good work ethic and was likely to learn quickly, but he wasn’t willing to take a chance in case these qualities didn’t materialize on the job. Since Nathaniel had never built boats before, he had no work history to prove that he would, indeed, work hard and learn fast enough to justify his salary. This obstacle confronted him time and time again, and it was very difficult to find a job although he spent hours every day looking.

Young people have the exact same problem when they start to look for work. What they need is not high wages—almost no one is paying all his expenses as a teenager, but job experience that will enable them to receive higher wages later, when they do have to pay all their own expenses. Realistically, the primary benefit young—or any unskilled—folks get from a job is not the pay, but the experience. That’s why it’s well-established that a minimum wage predominantly hurts minorities, the unskilled and young people.

Like I told my younger sister, another teen looking for work: You need to prove you can show up on time, every time, with a smile, and that you are a hard worker. Surprisingly, employers have a very hard time finding employees who will do that. It costs a lot of time, trouble and money to hire someone, and it gets even more expensive when you take all that trouble and end up hiring people who won’t show up on time. In the job my husband eventually got in DC, managing a moving company, they had a terrible time getting their workers just to show up.

Removing the minimum wage would make it a lot cheaper for an employer to give someone a chance. That boat builder could have hired my husband, and it would have benefitted both of them: My husband would get experience he could use to ask for higher pay later, and the employer would get a low-cost worker. Later, the employer would have a higher-skilled worker, and my husband would be worth more pay. Win-win.

Underdogs need someone to give them a chance. Sadly, the minimum wage makes chances far more expensive, and thus far less likely.