If it wasn't the removal of the youth minimum wage that caused youth unemployment to increase, then it would have to have been caused by something else that happened around the same time One other big change was the a sharp fall in young people getting skills for work. In December 2008 there were 133,300 people in industry training. By the end of last year, there were 108,000. No wonder unemployment has gone up.I'm not sure of the source on industry training figures so I don't know whether December 2008 was a local maximum or about average. I'd also thought that the bigger part of National's cut to apprenticeship funding was getting rid of an increase that Clark promised shortly before the election that was never enacted.
It's possible that reductions in funding for subsidized apprenticeships could have caused some of the increase in youth unemployment. I'd need to know rather more about the prior structure of apprenticeships to be able to put a figure on it. If there had been apprenticeship schemes providing wage subsidies for youth for the period 1986-2008 and not at all thereafter, a good chunk of the increase could be due to the combination of getting rid of apprenticeships and subjecting those not then eligible for apprenticeships to relatively high minimum wages. I'd be surprised if that were true, but I'll have to rely on someone to give me a good summary link in the comments for the history of youth apprenticeship schemes.
I would note, though, that Key only won election in November of 2008. Youth unemployment in December quarter 2008, which includes the last months of labour and the first months of National, was1.7 percentage points higher relative to the adult unemployment rate than we had ever seen since 1986. Did Key turn off a switch when he took office? Policy rarely moves that quickly, and even when it does, the economy lags it by a bit.
I'd have expected, but don't know for certain, that any cuts to apprenticeships would have cut funding for new apprenticeships rather than throwing out kids currently in apprenticeships. By December 2009, 13,000 more kids were unemployed that we would have expected given the worst prior performance of the youth unemployment rate relative to the adult unemployment rate. Did Key cut 13,000 new apprenticeships in his first year? Or, more realistically, more than 13,000 as at least some of the kids who didn't get apprenticeships would have found other work?
I can believe that the number of apprenticeships dropped. The bust in construction would have killed industry demand for apprentices. But in prior periods, whatever changes there were to apprenticeship demand, youth unemployment outcomes tracked the adult unemployment rate. I'm pretty sceptical that changes in apprenticeship policy regimes could be responsible for any sizeable portion of the increase in youth unemployment relative to adult unemployment. But I'm open to playing with the data if somebody points me to it; I wouldn't have time to get to it 'till semester break, but I'm willing to kick it around.
If teenagers were paid less, any improvement in the youth unemployment rate would come at the cost of higher adult unemployment. It doesn't make us better off; it just shuffled the problem around.Neumark and Wascher suggest there's something to this, but it's sure not the whole story. They find in US data that the employment effects of a youth minimum wage are twice as large as any disemployment effects on the next age cohort up. So some of the benefits of a youth minimum wage are substituting younger cheaper workers for slightly older more expensive ones, but there's a much larger effect through job creation.
Here, I'll disagree more strongly with Pagani.
Having people in work is better than not in work. But you need to earn a living wage. The current $12.50 minimum wage is not enough to live on so cutting it means the Government ends up paying people accommodation supplement, working for families, and other income support - in other words subsidising wages. Instead of spending the money on benefits, isn't it better to invest it in training, apprenticeships and skills, instead of in welfare supplements?First, the minimum wage is $13, not $12.50. That's the trivial objection. More substantively:
- Should we really expect that a minimum wage applying to 16 year olds be sufficient for raising a family? That's what the living wage argument tends to be about; I can't see why we'd push to apply it to 16 year olds.
- If we have decided that 16 year olds should receive a living wage, here are two potential options. I prefer the second.
- a really high minimum wage that forces a bunch of kids out of work and increases the cost of products produced by minimum wage workers, a disproportionate amount of which are bought by lower decile consumers;
- a wage subsidy packages that place the burden on the taxpayer, who presumably wishes to fund the transfer to 16 year old workers.
- I don't get why Pagani seems so averse to subsidising wages directly rather than through mechanisms that come with higher deadweight costs. Maybe in his model all the benefits go to employers who then just cut wages to match. I suppose you could build models in which that happens; they're just not particularly plausible.
Update: Do read Luis's comment below. Pagani's numbers seemed crazy high to me - total population aged 15-19 is only around 320K; having that many in training seemed implausible. But I figured I'd just leave it hang there 'till somebody found the actual number. And boy does Luis deliver a knock-out blow. 14k kids aged 15-19 were in training in December quarter 2008; that dropped to 10k in December quarter 2010. And I don't know what portion of that drop is due to changes in the funding environment and what portion is due to a worsening economy in which construction firms are reluctant to take on apprentices; the latter ought to happen in every recession.