What caught my eye is the "family with two kids," "...millions of working families." It paints a grim picture: mom, dad, two kids, trying to survive one wage earner's full-time minimum-wage job.To put the problem in the language of The Book Of Rules, "To obtain promotion, ability must be shown for greater responsibility." But how show the ability without the entry-level job?
My thought: What planet do the president's advisers live on? Come take a look, say, at the south side of Chicago, where I grew up and live, and where President Obama spent many formative years as a community organizer and so knows it even better. Is the first-order problem of these neighborhoods that its residents live in intact families with two kids, one full-time wage earner, trying to live on the wages from a full-time minimum wage job, but having a tough time making ends meet? Is there anyone like this?
The tragedy of the neighborhoods around where I live, and President Obama used to live, is the vast number of people with no job at all. How does raising the minimum wage for the few who have a minimum-wage job help the vast majority who have no job at all?
Minimum wages are about teenagers and young adults, most still living at home. It's about the "dating" phase of work-force attachment, where people learn the skills and habits, and make connections by which they can move up to better jobs when they are ready to have families.
That's an argument that higher minimum wages foreclose entry-level jobs. That's not an argument against raising the minimum wage, as Gary Becker explains.
Even if one accepts the conclusion, as I do, that higher minimum wages lowers employment significantly of vulnerable groups like teenagers, this conclusion does not imply that minimum wages are an ineffective way to fight poverty. Higher minimum wages might still increase the overall earnings of the poor because the higher earnings of those who manage to keep their jobs dominates the negative effects on the earnings of workers who lose their jobs.No end to the tradeoffs, or to the bad political speeches.
That conclusion too is not justified because minimum wages are ill suited to raise the incomes of the poor, partly because it targets individual earnings rather than family incomes. Posner gives several reasons why low earnings of individuals and low family incomes are only loosely connected.