President Barack Obama credited his successful career Thursday to his first job, but if Democrats implement a $15 minimum wage, those same job opportunities could be taken from the next generation.
Obama once worked for a Baskin-Robbins in Honolulu, Hawaii serving ice cream when he was a teenager. The summer job gave him experience that became the foundation on which he built his later success. His experience is not unique in that regard, but increasing the minimum wage could rob the next generation of that very critical first step.
“My first summer job wasn’t exactly glamorous, but it taught me some valuable lessons,” the president wrote on Linkedin. “Responsibility. Hard work. Balancing a job with friends, family, and school.”
There has been a growing movement calling for the minimum wage to be raised to $15 an hour. It has been led by Democratic lawmakers and labor unions. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders has made the policy a central focus on his platform, while the union-backed Fight for $15 movement has been at the forefront of the grassroots push. At the moment, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
“The limited experience we have shows it could be very destructive,” Heritage Foundation Labor Expert James Sherk told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “What we know from earlier minimum wage increases is it disproportionately hurts lower skilled workers.”
Sherk said a $15 minimum wage is historically unprecedented even when adjusted for inflation. No one can know for sure what the economic impact will be, but previous minimum wage increases have shown it hurts employment. Low-skilled workers are particularly vulnerable since they tend to not produce as much, hence it’s more costly for businesses to hire them.
“A big part of those early jobs is the experience its gives workers,” Sherk notes. “If you never gain those skills you get stuck in those jobs.”
Younger workers are most often low-skilled just by virtue of not having a lot of work experience. When Obama was scooping ice cream, he undoubtedly could not handle the presidency, but that experience combined with what followed, allowed him to climb the ladder to the top.
“You learn to show up on time, you learn to work with customers and coworkers,” Competitive Enterprise Institute Fellow Ryan Young told The DCNF. “Those skills are very beneficial.”
Not all Democrats support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Even Obama has been an avid advocate for the $10.10 minimum wage. Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has argued the federal minimum wage should not exceed $12 an hour but she does support states deciding for themselves whether to go higher. California Gov. Jerry Brown opposes the policy out of concern it could harm the state economy.
“The higher you set the minimum wage the more dramatics the trade off,” Young also noted. “Any increase will come with a trade off. Some workers will be benefited but others will be hurt.”
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