A career is a ladder. You don’t generally end up where you began, at least you shouldn’t. Young people start with a limited skill set. They haven’t had a lot of experience, with particular work or in dealing with people. They have not developed and proven a discipline to get to work on time, to take care of business, and so on. Without those traits, people are limited in the amount of value they can provide, and thus diminish the range of jobs they are able to do.
Formal education and training programs are ways to build knowledge and skills to a higher level, and the breadth of opportunity available is greatly enhanced for those who have taken the time and effort required. Even highly educated and paid employees, however, have often worked in low-pay jobs early in their careers, earning money for school or other things. Many important skills are learned on the first few jobs, even if it is low-pay, part-time, menial labor.
Those jobs are the points of entry into the labor force for most people. As they proceed up the ladder to higher skills and higher paying work, they leave room at the bottom for other people trying to get their start. It is the natural progression, as it has always been. In medieval times, apprentices built skills over years before they became journeyman or master craftsman, the upper rung.
The bottom rungs are being or have been cut off of the career ladder by a number of factors, making it more difficult to land that important first job to gain skills. Some of it is the progression of the economy toward more technology, but a lot of people sawing away at the rungs are those who ostensibly have good intentions: politicians and political activists.
Many people without jobs have some type of skill that they can sell or that they can develop with a little effort. The ridiculous licensing schemes, registration requirements and fees, and other such legal impediments, however, put a series of roadblocks in their paths to prevent them from either being employed at something for which they already have skill or for starting their own businesses to serve customers who would be willing to pay for the services they offer.
The minimum wage, though it is tauted as being necessary to help the working poor, is actually a fairly effective tool for cutting off the lower rungs of the ladder. Employees are suppliers of labor services, and those who hire them constitute the demand. When the price of anything increases, including low-skill labor, the quantity demanded decreases and the quantity supplied increases. For low skill jobs, competitors include technology and automation, but also include people with higher skills who wouldn’t consider it at a lower wage. Educated housewives and ambitious second-job seekers may now find it worthwhile. The increased competition means that many of those trying to grab the first rung will be left out. The minimum wage in that case, as in every case, is zero. If you don’t have a job, you don’t have a wage.
If you want to help low-skilled workers to get a start to a productive life, stop cutting off the bottom rungs. Let them learn from established workers at whatever wage they can get. Release their creative skills and entrepreneurial spirit by taking away impediments to employment and self-employment. Everyone says they want to help the poor, but only if they fit into preconceived boxes and conform to our own notions of appropriate work and wage. Let’s release them from the the boxes, allowing them them to take risks, to develop skills, and even to fail, so they can learn how to succeed.