It was beginning to feel a bit lonely. As far as I could tell I was just about the only writer who was linking Mitt Romney’s insensitivity to the plight of the very poor with minimum wage laws... here and here.
If you ask what keeps the very poor out of the labor market, then one answer must be minimum wage laws and the labor unions that support them.
Yesterday, presumptive candidate Romney tried to take back his cavalier dismissal of the very poor by saying that he misspoke. Or did he mitt-speak?
Romney excused himself by saying that he does lots of interviews. His defenders are saying that he has not become sufficiently familiar with the conservative playbook.
Nevertheless, Romney declared on Wednesday that he wanted to index the minimum wage to inflation.
Whatever Romney’s moral sentiments about the poor might be, his statement on the minimum wage was policy, not sentiment.
Today the Wall Street Journal editorialized that Romney’s policy out-liberals the liberals.
The Journal begins its editorial by accepting that it erred in trying to defend Romney’s statement about the poor:
Serves us right. Yesterday we tried to defend, or at least explain, Mitt Romney's remark that he didn't worry about the poor because they had the government to help them. Then Mr. Romney tells the world he favors a rising minimum wage indexed for inflation that really would hurt the poor.
Mr. Romney reaffirmed his minimum-wage views to reporters as he tried to extricate himself from the controversy over his "poor" remarks. (See "What Mitt Really Meant," Feb. 2.) It was a classic political gotcha moment, and Mr. Romney's response was more troubling than his earlier marks.
Few policies are as destructive as the minimum wage at keeping the young and least skilled out of the job market. By setting an arbitrary wage floor, politicians make it impossible for businesses to hire people for many entry-level positions. The jobs simply disappear.
Now, it doesn’t feel quite so lonely.
The Journal provides some evidence that minimum wage laws keep the very poor out of the workforce.
In 2007 the Pelosi Congress passed a minimum-wage increase in three stages that coincided with the recession. The jobless rate for teenagers has since exploded to 23.1% from under 15%, and for minorities to 15.8% from close to 9%. For black teenagers, the jobless rate is still an incredible 39.6%.
But even the Pelosi Democrats didn't index the minimum wage automatically for inflation. That would only increase the incentive not to hire those in society who have the hardest time finding work.
Next, the Journal offers a more constructive policy to address the problem of poverty in America.
If Mr. Romney wanted to help the poor and stay true to his free-market principles, he'd have cited the youth and minority jobless figures and proposed a special sub-minimum wage for teenagers. It's hardly a radical position, and it would get him back on the moral and political offensive.