Racial trade-offs, Part II
Last week's column (“Racial trade-offs,” Oct. 10 and TribLIVE.com) discussed the political trade-offs made by black politicians and civil rights organizations that condemn whole generations of black youngsters to failing schools. Similar political trade-offs in labor markets condemn many blacks, particularly black youths, to high rates of unemployment and reduced economic opportunities. Let's look at this.
Today white teen unemployment is about 20 percent, while that for blacks is about 40 percent. In 1948, the unemployment rate of black 16- and 17-year-old males was 9.4 percent, while that of whites was 10.2 percent. In 1910, 71 percent of black males older than 9 were employed, compared with 51 percent for whites.
It would be sheer lunacy to attempt to explain these more favorable employment statistics by suggesting that during earlier periods blacks faced less racial discrimination. What best explains the loss of teenage employment opportunities are increased-minimum-wage laws. There's little dispute within the economics profession that higher minimum wages discriminate against the employment of the least skilled worker, disproportionately represented by black teens.
Yet the entire Congressional Black Caucus and President Barack Obama support increases in minimum wages. They also give support to the Davis-Bacon Act, a Depression-era wage law with racist origins. The Davis-Bacon Act mandates that “prevailing wages” be paid on all federally financed or assisted construction projects. It's a pro-union law that discriminates against both nonunionized black construction contractors and black workers.
During the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act legislative debates, quite a few congressmen expressed their racist intentions, such as Rep. Miles Allgood, D-Ala., who said: “Reference has been made to a contractor from Alabama who went to New York with bootleg labor. ... That contractor has cheap colored labor that he transports, and he puts them in cabins, and it is labor of that sort that is in competition with white labor throughout the country.” Rep. John Cochran, D-Mo., said he had “received numerous complaints ... about Southern contractors employing low-paid colored mechanics getting work and bringing the employees from the South.” American Federation of Labor President William Green complained, “Colored labor is being sought to demoralize wage rates.” Today the racially discriminatory effects are the same.
President Obama, the Congressional Black Caucus, black state and local politicians, and civil rights organizations have been made aware of the unemployment effects of the labor laws they support. However, they are part of a political coalition. In order to get labor unions, environmental groups, business groups and other vested interests to support their handout agenda and make campaign contributions, they must give political support to what these groups want. They must support minimum wage increases even though the increases condemn generations of black youths to high unemployment rates. They must support Davis-Bacon Act restrictions even though those restrictions handicap black contractors and nonunion construction workers.
I can't imagine what black politicians and civil rights groups are getting that's worth condemning black youths to a high rate of unemployment and its devastating effects on upward economic mobility, but then again, I'm not a politician.
Walter Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers add cornerback, cut roster to 53
- Rossi: Baseball needs a new schedule
- Pirates rout Cardinals to keep things interesting in NL Central
- Steelers remain confident in defense
- State lawmaker proposes increasing cost of fishing licenses
- Pirates reliever Liz new, improved
- Dozens of cats rescued from trash-filled home in Arnold
- Marine from Mt. Oliver honored for fire rescue
- LaBar: Best next opponent for Brock Lesnar
- Berry wins Steelers’ punting job; Wing traded to Giants
- Connellsville Area School District to honor Hall of Fame inductees