In spite of the abysmal unemployment problem in the United States, President Obama was in Texas last week touting his plan to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Recently, New York, Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit have seen fast food workers walk off the job and strike demanding higher wages. Specifically, in Detroit, the Michigan Workers Organizing Committee, a coalition of labor, religious and community organizers is calling for a national minimum wage of $15 an hour.
The common denominator for everyone who wants to raise the minimum wage is the claim that the current government mandated floor price for hourly workers is too low for them to make a decent living. Then there are the recipients of low wages, who claim their value, after years of faithful service to an employer, is much higher than the wages they receive. For them, raising the minimum wage is the only way they can potentially get what should be coming to them – a higher rate of pay. At the end of the day, proponents of raising the minimum wage assert that it is simply a matter of fairness to give those at the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder a little more.
Well, there are a lot of problems with the above reasoning. In the first place, only two percent of wage earners in America work for minimum wage. While workers under 25 years of age account for just 20 percent of hourly paid workers, they make up close to 50 percent of those earning the federal minimum wage or less. In other words, very few workers are affected by the minimum wage and those that are tend to be young, first time wage earners. You know, the teenager working at McDonald’s after school. Naturally, older folks with familial responsibilities should find it hard to live making the current minimum wage. The system is not really set up for them.
Then there is the economic problem caused by the minimum wage, namely unemployment. Now, I know that there have been studies on both sides of the issue. But, it is an economic fallacy to believe that the minimum wage does not cause unemployment. Basic supply and demand tells us that as the price for a good or service increases, demand decreases. Conversely, as price falls, demand increases. By its very definition, the minimum wage is a price fix for labor above the market rate. Thus, as the minimum wage level is greater than the equilibrium wage or wage level where demand equals supply, fewer workers will be demanded and a consequent surplus of workers will result. Put another way, unemployment caused by the minimum wage is the difference between the amount of workers demanded and the amount supplied at the minimum wage level. To decrease unemployment (surplus of workers) wages have to drop, just like the price of a good, to reach the clearing equilibrium price. Naturally, this is impossible under federal and state laws, so unemployment persists until the minimum wage is overtaken by the market wage rate.
Instead of raising the minimum wage to help the working poor make ends meet, the focus should be on the cause of price inflation – the Federal Reserve Bank (the Fed). Since 1971, when President Nixon ended the convertibility of the dollar to gold that foreign creditors enjoyed, the Fed has monetized over $16 trillion in U.S. government debt and created trillions more dollars out of thin air helping the American banking cartel increase its profits. The result has been an 82 percent loss in the value of the dollar and consequent general price inflation. For instance, in 1971, a basket of groceries that cost $30 would cost $173 today. It’s no wonder minimum wage workers are hard pressed to make ends meet.
In the final analysis, only a return to sound money will ultimately help those currently working for minimum wage. It wasn’t perfect, but a return to the pre-1971 gold exchange standard would eliminate the need to constantly raise the minimum wage, cure our chronic youth unemployment problem, and be a “matter of fairness” for all wage earners.
Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina