In last night’s GOP presidential candidate debate, Dr. Ben Carson was asked if he would raise the federal minimum wage. Carson said that he would not do so because the minimum wage hurts workers, especially those in the black community:
People need to be educated on the minimum wage. Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases. This is particularly a problem in the black community. Only 19.8 percent of black teenagers have a job. Or are looking for one. And that’s because of those high wages. If you lower those wages, that comes down.
While many people will be hearing this claim for the first time, it’s nothing new. In their 1979 book Free to Choose, economist Milton Friedman and his wife Rose wrote, “We regard the minimum wage law as one of the most, if not the most, anti-black laws on the statute books.”
That’s not hyperbole—it’s history. Many of the early minimum wage laws, both in the U.S. and in other Western countries, were instituted precisely to prevent immigrants and black Americans from competing with white workers. As Thomas C. Leonard explains, progressive economists in the early 1900s believed that “the job loss induced by minimum wages was a social benefit, as it performed the eugenic service ridding the labor force of the ‘unemployable.’”
That was also the motive of many lawmakers who passed one of the first federal minimum wage laws, the Davis-Bacon Act.