Stop pricing young workers out of the labour force

’s op ed in the Dominion Post, and online at CIS is very good.

IF THE Government said that the minimum price for a new car were $50, nobody would expect it to affect sales. Neither would an increase to $65. But it would certainly start mattering if the Government applied a minimum price of $5000 to all cars, new and used.

Exactly. Only the stupidest person could argue that a mimimum price would not affect sales at certain levels. Hence the focus should be about at what level it starts to matter.

The latest youth unemployment figures are very bad. The unemployment rate for kids aged 15 to 19 is 27.5 per cent …

This isn’t just the recession. Unemployment rates for adults are higher than they were in the boom of the mid 2000s, but the recent downturn has not hit adult workers the same way that it’s hit the kids. The current adult unemployment rate of 6.6 per cent is only three points higher than its low mark in the mid 2000s. Meanwhile, youth unemployment rates are a staggering 15 points higher.

So what changed?

Both rates usually track each other, reflecting the overall strength of the labour market. Changes in the adult unemployment rate explain a high proportion of changes in the youth rate.

But in late 2008, this relationship began to break down. Compared with a previous trend, the current youth unemployment rate is eight points higher than we could have expected given the adult unemployment rate. That’s about 12,000 kids who, given the current adult unemployment rate, we would have expected to have jobs. …

Neither can they simply be due to the current downturn: when adult unemployment hit 10.2 per cent in 1992, the youth unemployment rate was 23.4 per cent – three points lower than today – and youth labour force participation rates were higher. Bear in mind that adult unemployment today is nowhere near 10.2 per cent.

The answer seems obvious. While done with good intentions, the abolition of a lower minimim wage rate for teenagers has priced them out of the labour market.

No, the sharp increase in youth unemployment from late 2008 appears to have been caused by the abolition of the youth in early 2008. Such a result isn’t surprising. Economist Stephen Gordon summarised Pierre Fortin’s work on this effect in relation to minimum wages: when minimum wages are below about 45 per cent of the average wage, they have little effect on employment; above that, they present a danger to employment.

By contrast, New Zealand’s minimum wage of $13 an hour is about 50 per cent of the average hourly wage – well into the range in which we expect negative employment effects, particularly for young workers.

And if the minimum wage increased to $15/hr, it would impact youth even harder.

Reinstating a youth minimum wage well below the adult rate wouldn’t eliminate youth unemployment. But it would let employers start creating new jobs that young workers could productively fill while gaining experience. It’s time to stop pricing young workers out of the labour force.

I agree. What the Government should do is freeze the youth minimum wage at $13/hr and keep it there until it has hit the floor of 80% of the adult minimum wage (which happens when it hits $16.25), and then have it remain at 80%.

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