A recent story on how the minimum wage is hurting South African workers is getting some attention. It opens with this tragic scene:
The sheriff arrived at the factory here to shut it down, part of a national enforcement drive against clothing manufacturers who violate the minimum wage. But women working on the factory floor — the supposed beneficiaries of the crackdown — clambered atop cutting tables and ironing boards to raise anguished cries against it.
“Why? Why?” shouted Nokuthula Masango, 25, after the authorities carted away bolts of gaily colored fabric.
The story naturally generates sympathy for the workers and should make anyone question the desirability of the minimum wage in that country. In one sense though these workers are relatively lucky; when the minimum wage destroys their jobs they at least have a chance to cry out and get attention for their plight, most jobs destroyed by the minimum wage are jobs that are never created, so the workers never even get a chance to be heard. I think progressives should think about this story when they consider whether minimum wages help the poor.
Conservatives will probably agree with this and want to call progressives hypocrites or uncaring, but would they feel better if the sheriff gathered these workers up and deported them after they closed down the business? The minimum wage is not the only thing destroying jobs, so too are the stepped up immigration restrictions that most conservatives support.
Structural labor market problems are not the majority of what’s causing unemployment, but they are a significant and potentially growing problem. It’s time to reconsider policies like minimum wages and immigration restrictions that prevent job creation or, even worse, actively destroy jobs.