Modern Discrimination

by Don Boudreaux on October 18, 2013

in Seen and Unseen, Work

During the Jim Crow era, people in America were told by government “If you are black, you may not work at this job or that job.”

Today, thankfully, government is no longer in the business of artificially restricting people’s economic opportunities directly on the basis of people’s skin color.  But…

Today, people in America (and in many other countries, too) are told by government “If you are an especially unproductive worker – that is, if you cannot produce, for any employer, value per hour that is at least equal to the minimum wage that we arbitrarily set – you may not work at any job.”

In what way is this latter assault against a group of people (based upon characteristics that are not their fault) acceptable and humane if the former assault is unacceptable and inhumane?

Futhermore, there’s ample evidence that increases in the legislated minimum wage in the U.S. have a disparate negative impact on the employment prospects of blacks, and especially young blacks.  So even if such racial discrimination was not among Congress’s intended consequences of its minimum-wage legislation, ought not the “disparate impact” doctrine of Griggs v. Duke Power Co- a statistics-based doctrine favored by the Obama administration – be used to find minimum-wage legislation to be a violation of the U.S. Constitution?  (Note: I’m no constitutional scholar.  My purpose here is not to comment upon the current state of U.S. constitutional law as it embodies or does not embody disparate-impact analysis.  I have no idea what the current state of that law is.  But there are people who believe that disparate-impact analysis ought to be used, and it is to them that I address this paragraph.)

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