Acton Institute Powerblog

Why Does the New York Times Want to Hurt the Poor?

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the-new-york-times-website-is-back-after-two-hour-outageWhile it may be difficult to imagine, there was once an era when the New York Times was concerned about the poor.

Consider, for example, a 1987 editorial they ran with the headline, “The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00.” As the editors noted at the time,

[Raising the minimum wage] would increase unemployment: Raise the legal minimum price of labor above the productivity of the least skilled workers and fewer will be hired.

If a higher minimum means fewer jobs, why does it remain on the agenda of some liberals? A higher minimum would undoubtedly raise the living standard of the majority of low-wage workers who could keep their jobs. That gain, it is argued, would justify the sacrifice of the minority who became unemployable. The argument isn’t convincing. Those at greatest risk from a higher minimum would be young, poor workers, who already face formidable barriers to getting and keeping jobs. Indeed, President Reagan has proposed a lower minimum wage just to improve their chances of finding work.

Back then the federal minimum wage was $3.35 ($7 in 2015 dollars) and the editors of the Times had a basic understanding of economics. Today, their editorial board is apparently comprised solely of those completely ignorant about economics, for they published an editorial last week calling for wage to be raised to $15 a hour.

Their reasoning? No real justification is given other than that the government must do something. In their conclusion they write:

Sooner or later, Congress has to set an adequate wage floor for the nation as a whole. If it does so in the near future, the new minimum should be $15.

Let’s be clear about what the New York Times editorial board is proposing: they want to put poor and low-skilled people out of work.

I don’t know of a single respectable economist who would dispute the fact that a $15 minimum wage will increase unemployment of the poor. The only question is how many people will lose their jobs (or not be hired in the first place). Some economists think that modest increases (around 20 percent, raising it to about $8.70 an hour) are worth the disincentive to employment. But none truly think that doubling the minimum wage won’t put people out of work.

When the discussion is about modest minimum wage increases over long periods of time, the debate remains in the realm of political debate. But when the increase is a proposal for a 61 percent to be implemented as soon as possible it becomes a moral issue. We shouldn’t stand by and let the poor suffer because the economic illiteracy of the New York Times—we have a duty to speak up on behalf of poor workers.

Perhaps if the newspaper were to go back and carefully read their old editorial they’d reconsider their elitist and morally obtuse call for wage increases. Because if they get their wish and Congress follows their proposal, they will look back in thirty years and recognize this editorial was one of the most hateful toward the poor they ever published.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Philosophical Actuary

    It is a strange and manifest contradiction of liberalism that they at once claim concern for the individual in his particular circumstance but insist on vast sweeping universal change as if each individual was the same. Upon liberal principles a federal minimum wage makes little sense as the cost of living in North Dakota is vastly different from New York City or a teenager living at home from a married man with four children. The minimum wage should be set at the lowest societal level possible upon liberal principles, which generally would seem to be the individual in his consideration of his own needs.

    It does seem that there is such a thing as a just wage which proceeds from ethical rather than economical principles. A man seeks his own and his family’s maintenance and livelihood in his labors. If his labors do not achieve this end, then he has no reason to work. The presumption that minimum wage laws are the exclusive manner of achieving a just wage is ludicrous and lacks the creativity liberals are supposed to be known for. However, I do wish that with each denunciation of minimum wage laws there was at least the suggestion or articulation of means of achieving a just wage.

    • The only serious discussion of a just wage that I have ever read came from the Salamancan scholars of the 16th century. Essentially, they wrote that any wage agreed to by both parties without coercion or fraud is a just wage. They vigorously opposed any minimum wage because it would hurt the poor. They insisted that a poor wage is better than no wage.

      • Philosophical Actuary

        You then may wish to read:
        Edward Feser’s “Social Justice Reconsidered: Austrian Economics and Catholic Social Teaching” at
        Fr. Austin Fagothey’s “Right And Reason:Ethics in Theory and Practice”
        Michael Cronin’s “The Science of Ethics Vol II:Special Ethics” on the Internet Archive

        Feser establishes the minimal position that there are at least some circumstances where a wage would be manifestly unjust even without coercion or fraud. Fr. Fagothey establishes from a principled argument, that I use above, that there is such a thing as just wage that is not merely insured by minimal ethical requirement of lack of fraud and coercion. Cronin appears to go significantly farther in the obligations of the employeer, but I haven’t read him closely.

  • I don’t think socialists are stupid in being so stubborn about the min wage. They know it causes unemployment and that’s what they want. They want more people totally dependent on state handouts. Higher min wage laws increase unemployment and swell the welfare roles and those on unemployment insurance. They want the US to be like France where a small minority of people work hard and support the majority on state payrolls and welfare. That way the state always has a loyal majority of voters who depend on it for all of their income and healthcare.

  • Jeff Hyams

    Actually the minimum wage doesn’t even help those who don’t lose their jobs. As the price increases necessary to pay the wage filter through the economy, all prices rise to bring the economy back into equilibrium. The low level wage earner ends up having to pay more for everything, thus negating the effect of a pay increase.