A quick show of hands, please … how many of you have ever worked for 70 cents an hour? Not very many. That’s what I made at my first job as a high school student shelving books in a university library. The minimum wage back then was $1 an hour, but as a student trainee all I got was 70 cents.
By the time I got my next paying job, the minimum wage was up to a buck-and-a-quarter, but I got $2 an hour. That was not because of any generosity on the part of my employer. It was because I had a First-Class Commercial Radiotelephone Operator’s License from the FCC and could legally operate the transmitter at the radio station that hired me.
I’ve never had a minimum wage job. Since that second job, I’ve been overqualified, but for that first job, I was underqualified. Indeed, if the library had had to pay me more that I was worth, I never would have had that first job. I’d have been priced out of the market.
There’s another way to look at the minimum wage. Declaring that there is a minimum price which must be paid for labor has the effect of outlawing labor not worth that much. That can have two effects. One is to keep more low-skill persons who want to work unemployed. The other is to force more workers into the off-the-books economy. Neither strikes me as a good idea.