Unemployment among teenagers is sitting close to 24%. It's easy to shrug this off, since most teens live with their families and their lack of income isn't likely resulting in some great wave of human suffering. Still, it has long term repercussions; the kids who don't wind up working in their teens go into the work force as adults with significant disadvantages. They haven't learned such basic work skills as showing up on time and how to conduct themselves among work peers.
Getting a quarter of our future work force off to a stumbling start is a pretty sure guarantee of problems down the line. I think it may be time to think about killing one of the sacred cows of the social safety net: The minimum wage.
First of all, as a libertarian, I accept the notion that there shouldn't be a minimum wage, period. I understand the impulse behind it, but is there any actual evidence that minimum wage laws raise people out of poverty? For years, people have warned that raising the minimum wage would raise unemployment. Usually, it hasn't, because the real world wage of most workers was well above the minimum anyway. And, up until 2008, the debt economy had enough people spending money they hadn't earned on stuff they didn't need that employers sometimes had to hire anyone with a pulse, which is frequently the sole job skill a teenager possesses.
Politically, we could probably never roll back the minimum wage for everyone. We'd get every local TV news show in the nation out talking to forty year old single mothers of eight kids earning minimum wage and the outrage ginned up would scare off even Rand Paul. But, what about a different minimum wage for people under 21? If you aren't old enough to buy beer, then you don't need to be paid enough to get drunk. Either repeal the minimum entirely before age 21, or maybe set it to half the adult minimum wage.
I'm sure I sound heartless proposing this. But I've mainly been thinking about this problem because I know a few unemployed teenagers, and would like to see them catch a break. This seems like a possible path to make them attractive to employers again.