While listening to Art Lewis on WSGW on Tuesday, a listener criticized those (like me) who argue for a higher minimum wage of perhaps as high as $15 per hour. The caller said raising the minimum wage would make the “93-million unemployed Americans number” rise even higher.
I’ve heard many conservatives use that number for the past year or so, including GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, and wondered if it’s an accurate and valid statistic. And if so, who are these 93-million people not working, and what are some of the factors behind their “unemployment.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Josh Zumbrun looked into this claim last summer, and concluded that teenagers and retirees comprise of a big chunk of the 93 million stat:
The Labor Department doesn’t consider these people (teenagers and retires) unemployed for a reason: Your kid brother who is a high school junior and my grandma who just turned 88? They’re not considered unemployed, for a very good and very obvious reason! The reason 42% of Americans don’t have job is that the U.S. has 46 million people age 60 and over and another 10 million teenagers. Now, many people in these ages do work, but is it useful to think of most high school students and retirees as unemployed? (The labor force statistics begin at age 16. Even Mr. Trump isn’t counting babies or middle schoolers among the unemployed.)
In their prime working years, close to 80% of Americans have jobs. Breaking this chart down by age also reveals something significant: Men are more likely to work than women. There’s an obvious reason for this, too: Many women choose to stay home to take care of their children. Mr. Trump’s 93 million unemployed people include not only your grandparents and teenage cousins, but also any stay-at-home moms you know.
Zumbrun also notes that while the share of prime-age workers has dropped, economists differ on the reasons.
Using the 93-million unemployed statistic may provide a good soundbite, but once you delve more into the numbers, the evidence isn’t as black and white.
Politifact seems to agree.