Where Are Good Jobs And Wages?
May's monthly jobs numbers revealed that a staggering 24.2 percent of teens
16-19 are unemployed, down only slightly from the historic peak of 27 percent last fall
Fighting Back for Good Jobs and Good Wages
Anne L. Thompson
Our nation's teens face grim chances of finding a job this summer. May's monthly jobs numbers revealed that a staggering 24.2 percent of teens
16-19 are unemployed, down only slightly from the historic peak of 27 percent last fall. This dire jobs situation follows a rough decade for
our nation's youth: since the 2001 recession, annual teen unemployment
has never fallen below 15 percent.
The crisis in teen employment is another terrible incarnation of the
overall jobs' deficit our nation faces. With unemployed workers
outnumbering job openings by more than four to one, employers have their
pick of older, more experienced workers even for entry level jobs. Half
of the jobs secured by new college graduates don't require a college
That leaves teens, the youngest workers with the shortest resumes, with
the bleakest prospects for employment. And among youth, African-American
teens face even greater hurdles in finding work, given disparities in
education, family income, and the disconnect between where they live and
where job opportunities exist. Persistent earnings disparities between
African Americans and whites at all educational levels also suggest that
employer discrimination remains a factor in limiting employment and
earnings opportunities for black teens. Unemployment among
African-American teens in May was a stunning 40.7 percent.
To add insult to injury, corporate interests are now seizing on the
crisis of African-American unemployment to advance their own interests
and further erode worker protections. From The Wall Street Journal
40.html> to The Heritage Foundation
corporate interests are claiming that black teens have been sidelined
from the workforce by-wait for it-the minimum wage.
These folks have seized upon a new study
<http://epionline.org/study_detail.cfm?sid=137> by the Employment
Policies Institute that claims that raising the minimum wage in 2007
caused more unemployment among 16-to-24 year-old African Americans
without high school diplomas than the recession. Let that sink in. They
claim that the minimum wage, which is now worth less than in the late
1960s, has caused more job loss among the nation's most vulnerable
workers than the worst recession since the Great Depression, one that
decimated the housing and financial sectors and ricocheted throughout
the entire economy.
The claim doesn't pass the straight face test-and it doesn't pass the
test of basic economics either. While corporate interests advance their
own studies on the effects of the minimum wage, a growing body of
rigorous academic research has found that increases in the minimum wage
increase earnings for minimum wage workers without reducing employment.
A study <http://www.irle.berkeley.edu/workingpapers/166-08.pdf>
published in April in the peer-reviewed journal Industrial Relations by
economists at the University of California and University of
Massachusetts examined the effects of the minimum wage increases on
teens from 1990-2009 and found no evidence of resultant job loss,
including among African-American youth.
How did the Employment Policies Institute get it so wrong? As reported
by The New York Times, the group is a "business-backed" organization
headed by former restaurant industry lobbyist Richard Berman
<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtwDb_3TKWs> -- you may have heard of
Berman for his efforts opposing restrictions on drunk driving or mercury
in fish or arguing that tanning beds don't cause cancer. Make no mistake
about it-the organization's mission is not to improve the economic
situation of vulnerable, low-wage workers, but to help corporate
interests increase profits.
In an era in which labor unions represent a tiny share of the private
sector and high unemployment erodes workers' ability to negotiate better
pay, the minimum wage serves as one the few remaining worker protections
to keep wages from free falling. For African-American workers, who
experience even higher unemployment rates and continuing workplace
discrimination, wage erosion is even more severe and the protection
afforded by the minimum wage is even more important. We must stand up to
corporate interests that, in the cause of enhancing their profits, are
using the economic crisis as a bludgeon to further reduce the security
of ordinary Americans to enhance their profits.
Thompson is a policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.
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