Minimum wage laws are a classic example of a collectivist mindset that sacrifices many individuals for some alleged social goal. By making it illegal for business owners to employ people at anything below a government-specified minimum wage, these laws put a number of people out of work and squeeze the heck out of some business owners and entrepreneurs, all so that some others will be paid slightly more than they could earn on a free market.

Many opponents of minimum wage laws would like to see them abolished, but such a measure would likely be politically unviable today. Matthew Rousu — associate professor of economics at Susquehanna University — offers an idea for a step that might be more feasible and that would have a major positive impact: eliminate the minimum wage for teenagers.

I particularly appreciated how the author went beyond the standard economic account — making many teenagers too expensive to employ — when describing how minimum wage laws hurt teenagers:

These [minimum-wage-fueled] unemployment rates among teenagers have devastating short-term and long-term consequences. In the short term, the lack of income and ability to hold a job is damaging to one’s self esteem. It addition to the lack of income, the minimum wage likely leads prompts a defeatist mentality where a person thinks they cannot “do anything to get ahead” or that “the system is rigged.”

In the long run, the consequences are much worse. One key way people start to earn higher wages is by gaining work experience. The first jobs are full of useful lessons about how to be a good worker. When I worked minimum-wage jobs (thankfully at a much lower minimum wage, so I was employable), I learned about showing up for work every day (whether I wanted to or not), learning to deal with difficult coworkers, learning to deal with difficult customers, and more. These all helped me gain skills and succeed in my subsequent jobs, which paid more than the minimum wage.

The inability for today’s teenagers to obtain legal work prevents skill acquisition. It’s leading to lower incomes not only now but will lead to lower wages for the rest of their lives . . .

You can read the whole piece here.