Ben Carson can’t make up his mind about the minimum wage. Last Spring he said that the current $7.25 an hour minimum is too low. But at last night’s Republican presidential candidates’ debate, Carson joined the crowd on stage, agreeing with the position of Donald Trump and all of the other GOP candidates that there should be no minimum wage increase. However, this is Ben Carson, which means that in order to support his position, he had to make up numbers about something about which he obviously has no knowledge.
Here is what Carson said about the minimum wage:
As far as the minimum wage is concerned, 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.
Let’s take his second claim first — the one about black youth unemployment. It’s true that unemployment among black youth is very high. But over 80 percent? Not even close. FactCheck.org looked at a similar claim by Bernie Sanders, who said that black youth unemployment was at 51 percent, and found it wildly inaccurate. The Economic Policy Institute put unemployment among black high school graduates between the ages of 17 and 20 at 29.7 percent as of last March; a number that was down from a high of 42 percent in August 2011.
Once again, Carson pulls numbers out of thin air.
Regarding Carson’s other claim, that “the number of jobless people increases” every time the minimum wage is increased, numbers from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics say “no.” Of course, there are a variety of factors that influence the unemployment rate, but when you look at BLS data going back to 1948, you can quickly see that for the most part, minimum wage increases have not led to higher unemployment. When I pointed this out in an earlier post, a right-winger who claimed to have a degree in economics said that “minimum wage unemployment” increases, not necessarily overall unemployment. The problem with that argument is that neither the BLS, nor any other organization that I could find, keeps data for “minimum wage unemployment.”
Here is what the BLS data show. On the chart below, minimum wage increases since 1948 are shown in green. Instances where the unemployment rate increased within three months of the minimum wage increase are shown in red. Why three months? Because minimum wage jobs are usually considered to be lower skill, entry-level jobs, it stands to reason that businesses who employ minimum wage workers would let some of them go very soon after an increase in the wage.
It’s also worth noting that in 1950, the minimum wage went from 40 cents an hour to 75 cents an hour. Percentage-wise that is one of the largest single increases in the minimum wage. In 2015 dollars, that was the equivalent of an increase from $3.95 to $7.40 an hour. Under Carson’s theory, the national economy should have crashed and burned. Not only did unemployment not increase, it declined significantly over the next two years.
The chart shows that the unemployment rate moved in a positive direction following minimum wage increases 12 times, while moving in a negative direction eight times. It’s also worth noting that in 1975 and 2009, minimum wage increases came during recessions, so blaming those increases for higher unemployment in those years is questionable at best. From this data, the worst conclusion that anyone can draw about the minimum wage’s effect on unemployment is that it has little to no effect at all. But these are numbers, and Ben Carson is showing that he has a very difficult time dealing with numbers. Or for that matter, with reality in any form.
Here’s the video of Carson’s comments about the minimum wage, via The Wall Street Journal:
Featured image via Wall Street Journal screen capture