While 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.
Economic Thinking for the Theologically Minded provides an introduction to what has been called "the economic way of thinking." This involves explaining some of the critical concepts and foundational assumptions employed in economics.