Jason Riley writes Minimum Expectations in The Wall Street Journal, 2/13/13 (Political Diary- may require subscription )


There is something sadly ironic about watching the nation’s first black president call for an increase in the federal minimum wage during his State of the Union address Tuesday.

Minimum-wage laws date to the 1930s, and supporters in Congress at the time were explicit about using them to stop blacks from displacing whites in the labor force by working for less money. Milton Friedman regarded the minimum wage as “one of the most, if not the most, anti-black laws on the statute books.”

Prior to the passage of minimum-wage laws—and in an era of open and rampant racial discrimination in the U.S.—the unemployment rate for black men was much lower than it is now and similar to that of whites in the same age group.

Today, unemployment stands at 7.9% overall but is 13.8% among blacks (versus 7% among whites), 14.5% among black men (versus 7.2% among white men) and 37.8% among black teens (versus 20.8% among white teens). Yet Mr. Obama has proposed increasing the minimum wage by 24% to $9 an hour to placate his union supporters who want less competition for their members. A higher minimum wage might lift earnings for existing workers—provided they keep their jobs—but it also reduces job opportunities for millions of people out of work.