Black Unemployment and the Minimum Wage

Summary: There is a lot of racism in the history of the US minimum wage – but the most important way that racism has been expressed is through exemptions to the minimum wage law which have kept workers of color from being protected as well as white workers. And evidence suggests that the minimum wage law does not increase unemployment amongst black workers.

On another thread, Jut wrote:

And, let’s face it: minimum wage laws were designed to price black people out of the labor market; why should we be surprised that they accomplished that goal?

It’s true that the history of the minimum wage is shot through with racism, including occasional examples of racists wanting a universal minimum wage in order to price non-whites out of the labor market. But the main way racists in the US have effected minimum wage law is by making exemptions for jobs that are primarily held by workers of color.

The first federal minimum wage law in the US was the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. But racist Southern Democrats lobbied heavily to exclude some classes of workers, especially agricultural workers, from the FLSA. For example, Florida Representative J. Mark Wilcox, debating the FLSA in 1937, said:

Then there is another matter of great importance in the South, and that is the problem of our Negro labor. There has always been a difference in the wage scale of white and colored labor. So long as Florida people are permitted to handle the matter, this delicate and perplexing problem can be adjusted; But the Federal Government knows no color line and of necessity it cannot make any distinction between the races. We may rest assured, therefore, that … it will prescribe the same wage for the Negro that it prescribes for the white man. … [T]hose of us who know the true situation know that it just will not work in the South. You cannot put the Negro and the white man on the same basis and get away with it. Not only would such a situation result in grave social and racial conflicts but it would also result in throwing the Negro out of employment and in making him a public charge.

As historian Juan Perria wrote (pdf link, long but excellent):

Specifically, southern congressmen wanted to exclude black employees from the New Deal to preserve the quasi-plantation style of agriculture that pervaded the still-segregated Jim Crow South. While they supported reforms that would bring more prosperity to their relatively poor region, they rejected those that might upset the existing system of racial segregation and exploitation of blacks.

President Roosevelt and his legislative allies recognized that in order to pass any New Deal legislation at all, it was necessary to compromise with Southern Democrats intent on preserving white supremacy. The compromise position was race-neutral language that both accommodated the southern desire to exclude blacks but did not alienate northern liberals nor blacks in the way that an explicit racial exclusion would. An occupational classification like agricultural and domestic employees, excluding most blacks without saying so, was just such race-neutral language.

In the decades since, anti-racist activists in the US have fought long and hard to reduce and eliminate those occupational classifications, with some success.

But what about Jut’s second claim – “why should we be surprised that they accomplished that goal?” Have minimum wage laws actually priced Black workers in particular out of the labor market?

Good empirical studies haven’t supported Jut’s assertion. From John Schmitt’s overview of the research (pdf link):

As Allegretto, Dube, and Reich note, however, a theoretical case can be made that minimum wages might instead improve the relative employment prospects of disadvantaged workers: “An alternative view suggests that barriers to mobility are greater among minorities than among teens as a whole. Higher pay then increases the returns to worker search and overcomes existing barriers to employment that are not based on skill and experience differentials.”62 A higher minimum wage could help disadvantaged workers to cover the costs of finding and keeping a job, including, for example, transportation, child-care, and uniforms.

Allegretto, Dube, and Reich’s (2011) own research on the employment effect of the minimum wage on teens looks separately at the effects on white, black, and Hispanic teens. For the period 1990 through 2009, which includes three recessions and three rounds of increases in the federal minimum wage, they find no statistically significant effect of the minimum wage on teens as a whole, or on any of the three racial and ethnic groups, separately, after they control for region of the country. Using a similar methodology, Dube, Lester, and Reich (2012) detect no evidence that employers changed the age or gender composition in the restaurant sector in response to the minimum wage. In a study of detailed payroll records for a large retail firm with more than 700 stores, Laura Giuliano (2012) found that teens from more affluent areas increased their labor supply (and employment) after the 1996-1997 increases in the minimum wage, while employment of teens in less affluent areas experienced no statistically significant change in employment.

We can also look at this in a cruder way: Does Black unemployment actually move up and down with the value of the minimum wage? Here are three graphs: A graph of Black unemployment, a graph of the minimum wage, and then an overlay showing the two graphs together.

Minimum wage and black unemployment in graphs

There are major periods (marked in blue in the overlay) in which black unemployment and the value of the minimum wage seem to be moving together. But there are also major periods (marked in pink) in which they seem to actually be opposites. Overall, it’s hard to argue, looking at this, that the correspondence is anything more than chance.

Furthermore, there are two big problems with arguing that the areas of correspondence shows that black unemployment is being drive by the minimum wage. First of all, Black and white unemployment rates virtually always move up and down together (although the Black unemployment rate is always higher). So it’s hard to argue that the minimum wage is causing unemployment amongst Black but not white workers.

Secondly, and more importantly, look at those gray bars in the chart of Black unemployment over time. Those mark recessions. And when you look at that, it becomes obvious that changes in unemployment rates are overwhelmingly driven by recessions. During recessions (including the time before and after the recession), and at no other time, unemployment rises steeply. After recessions, and at no other time, unemployment drops. The longer the time between recessions, the longer the drop.

Once you notice the link to recessions, it’s hard to see how the minimum wage can be the driving force behind black unemployment.

But maybe looking at Black unemployment is my mistake. If the idea is that higher minimum wages cause employers to favor white employees more, wouldn’t it make more sense to look instead at how the minimum wage corresponds with the ratio of Black to white unemployment? Yes, it would. But:


Again, no support for Jut’s theory there.

P.S. I just added a minimum wage category to “Alas,” for those who are interested.

Posted in Class, poverty, labor, & related issues, Economics and the like, Minimum Wage, Race, racism and related issues | 2 Comments  

Robert’s New Book, About Avoiding Prison, Is Available On Amazon

A message from Robert Hayes:

Dear Alas friends –

stayoutofprisonAfter almost a year of incarceration, I have finished my book on why getting incarcerated is a Poor Life Strategy ™ and how to avoid making the mistakes I made. The book is for sale on Amazon, in e-book form; a printed version will be coming in the next few days.

I would really really really really really appreciate it if you (a) bought the book (it’s $2.99), and – at least as important – wrote a lovely glowing review of it on the site. (If you don’t think it deserves a glowing review, then please tell me why so I can fix it.)

Thank you in advance,


Posted in Bob Behind Bars, Prisons and Justice and Police | 1 Comment  

I Disagree With People On Tumblr About Dr. Horrible And About The Minimum Wage

I disagree with people on Tumblr: Is Dr. Horrible A Sexist “Nice Guy” Narrative?

I disagree with people on Tumblr part 2: Why We Should NOT Abolish The Minimum Wage

Posted in Class, poverty, labor, & related issues, Economics and the like, Men and masculinity, Minimum Wage, Popular (and unpopular) culture | 29 Comments  

My cartoons at a May Day festival in Israel


An Israeli reader very kindly showed me this photo, of “May Day in Israel. At the working and studying youth movement festival.”

There are two of my cartoons (flipped left to right and translated into Hebrew) visible in this photo:
Bitch If You Do, Broke If You Don’t” and “How The Feminist Revolution Wasn’t Completed

I love seeing stuff like this!

P.S. Obligatory Patreon link blah blah blah.

Posted in Cartooning & comics | Leave a comment  

Open Thread and Link Farm, Buildings In The Middle Of The Street Edition


Top image is from Mattias Inks. Click on the image to see it bigger.

  1. Black Widow, Scarce Resources And High-Stakes Stories Linda Holmes argues – and I agree – that the biggest problem with sexism in the new Avengers movie is that Black Widow is the only female lead character, which makes whatever they do with her character feel like a statement about women in general.
  2. The Unit of Caring on misandry and structural power: “I tag ‘misandry cw’ for hatred/contempt of men expressed specifically in a way that exploits systemic power dynamics. So a woman abusing a man isn’t misandry, but dismissal of men who have been violently abused because ‘men are always the abuser’ or ‘women can’t be violent’ or ‘what are you, weak and pathetic?’ reflects harmful attitudes toward men that are a consequence of structural power.”
  3. Study finds fat acceptance blogs can improve health outcomes (From 2012, and not proof positive of anything, but might be a useful link next time someone tells you fat acceptance is about people wanting an excuse to lie on the sofa eating McDonalds take-out all day, not that there’s anything wrong with that).
  4. The Myth of Wealthy Men and Beautiful Women – The Atlantic
  5. The conclusive, expert guide to saving Twitter from its trolls – The Washington Post
  6. debate about free expression on campus, between lefty professor Angus Johnston and Reason magazine writer Robby Soave. Although some of Johnston’s points seemed questionable to me, on the whole it seems to me he had by far the stronger case. But then again, I’m biased.
  7. A Response to Christina Hoff Sommers | (Speaking of Angus Johnston.)
  8. This idea for how to create more housing in cities with enormously high demand, like San Francisco – basically, open up what are now streets for development into residential or multi-use buildings, turn the sidewalks into European style avenues, and let the free market sort out parking – seems wonderful to me.
  9. Basic parenting gets fathers a gold star, and other things I learned on paternity leave – Vox
  10. Enough With the Holocaust Books for Children! – Tablet Magazine
  11. Restorative Justice: The Evidence — Report Draws Attention to RJ in the UK. “Restorative Justice” is an alternative approach to adversarial trials and to punitive responses to crime. I don’t think it’s right for every case, but it should in of our society’s toolbox, because there are loads of cases where it makes sense.
  12. Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution Really interesting interview with an Egyptian feminist activist and writer.
  13. Rape Culture? What Rape Culture?
  14. How We Justify Shaming, Harassment, and Abuse
  15. A List of Ways I Have Used Trigger Warnings
  16. Quinnspiracy Blog – Risky Business Zoe Quinn talks about how anti-feminists have successfully perpetuated a blacklist.
  17. The Debate Link: Inexplicable Sentiments A North Carolina prosecutor says that for immigration purposes, violence doesn’t count if it’s Latino-on-Latino.
  18. The health benefits of breastfeeding have been VASTLY exaggerated. Think of how much completely needed trouble, trauma and guilt among mothers has been caused.
  19. Racism Is Destroying the Right to Vote | Demos
  20. Stop Comparing The Black Widow SNL Sketch And The Supergirl Trailer | The Mary Sue What would be funny and out of character for Black Widow is fine for Supergirl.
  21. Veronica Straszheim — “Half of the captions had been written by men, and half by women. When not told who wrote what, the participants judged them almost equally funny….”
  22. Stop all that reckless breathing! A local Republican legislator worries that people on bikes are destroying the Earth with their exhaling and stuff.
  23. ‘We must be careful about what we pretend to be’: How tribal cheerleading creates new tribal dogma and changes the tribe to conform to it. Also about what ridiculous poll results really indicate.
  24. 10 Things Everyone Should Know About Civil Rights Heroine Diane Nash
  25. Racial segregation was not the unintended effect of benign policies.
  26. ECHIDNE OF THE SNAKES: First Convict the Perpetrator. On True And False Rape Accusations
  27. Think Twice Before Calling the Cops on the Mentally Ill – The Atlantic
  28. “You mentioned neurodiversity in your blog description – what does the term mean to you?” in The Unit of Caring
  29. Why you should never, ever play the lottery – The Washington Post What I found most interesting about this was the proposal for “a lottery with no losers” – Prize-Linked Savings. “It’s a system where instead of each person earning interest on their savings, all the interest is pooled together and then raffled off. So in the worst case, people have saved money that they otherwise would have lost on lottery tickets, and in the best they won a nice little cash prize on top of their little nest egg.”
  30. The nail salon crisis is not about your middle class guilt
  31. The Debate Link: Neither Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton are “affirmative action picks.” Sheesh!
  32. One-liner that cracked me up: “My milkshakes bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”
  33. Sentencing Law and Policy: “Too Many People in Jail? Abolish Bail” “In addition to being unjust and unnecessary, pretrial incarceration can have harmful consequences. Not only do those who are in jail before trial suffer the trauma of confinement, but in comparison with their bailed-­out counterparts, they are also more likely to be convicted at trial.”
  34. Obama Is Not The Foe Of Wall Street He Claims To Be
  35. Why I Don’t Read The News Anymore | Thing of Things
  36. Why white kids in Baltimore get more second chances than black kids – Vox I really need to do a cartoon on this topic, because it’s essential.
  37. Woman Held Hostage Uses Online Pizza Hut Order To Send Messages Asking For Help – Consumerist


Posted in Link farms | 56 Comments  

Cartooning process: Sweet, Sweet Denial

Here’s an image showing my process on a political cartoon I did years ago about the chocolate industry. I really like seeing process posts from other cartoonists, so I hope people enjoy seeing this.

I’m doing this partly to support my new Patreon. If the Patreon does well enough, then I’ll be adding a fourth stage to this cartoon after all these years – color! Fingers crossed…


Hope y’all enjoyed that!

Posted in Cartooning & comics | 1 Comment  

Cartoon: Maternity Leave vs Profit

This seems like a good time to announce that I’m starting a Patreon to support my political cartoons. Please check it out (and tell me if you spot any typos!).


This cartoon was a collaboration with my friend Becky Hawkins. I did the writing and lettering with Becky’s help, Becky did the drawing with me helping on layouts, and I did the gray tones.


Panel 1
A woman in a collared shirt and black pants is talking to a businessman in a fancy suit.
WOMAN: Businesses oppose paid maternity leave because you put money above women’s health!
BUSINESSMAN: We care deeply about women! We’re against paid leave because it’s bad for women!

Panel 2
The businessman has pulled a mother, holding a crying newborn, into the panel.
WOMAN: Women need time off to recover after giving birth.
BUSINESSMAN: Nonsense! Just look at Tiana here… She can’t wait to get back to work. It’s patronizing of you to say otherwise!
TIANA: So tired….

Panel 3
BUSINESSMAN: Paid maternity leave makes hiring women more expensive – and that means companies will discriminate against hiring them! Have a heart!

Panel 4
The businessman violently shoves Tiana off-panel.
WOMAN: So we’ll give paid leave to new mothers AND new fathers!
BUSINESSMAN: But that would cost MONEY!

Posted in Abortion & reproductive rights, Cartooning & comics, Class, poverty, labor, & related issues, Economics and the like, Feminism, sexism, etc, Gender and the Economy, Health Care and Related Issues | 15 Comments  

Enough with the torture scenes, please

A scene from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” in which Captain America and Black Widow are trying to get information from a bad guy:

Jasper Sitwell: Is this little display meant to insinuate that you’re gonna throw me off the roof? Because it’s really not your style, Rogers.

Steve Rogers: You’re right. It’s not. It’s hers.

[Natasha kicks Sitwell off the roof]

In context, it’s a really funny scene. Don’t worry, they didn’t really kill Sitwell.1 Cap’s pal The Falcon was below, waiting to fly up and catch Sitwell and throw him back down onto the roof. Then Sitwell talks, because in the superhero genre torture always works (at least, it does when the good guys torture).2

Colin Smith, in an excellent post about a torture scene in a Spider-Man comic, describes the elements of a typical superhero torture scene:

6.) A situation in which the torture’s been designed to be gruesomely compelling for the reader, because torture is, as [the writer] amongst many others obviously believes, an entertainment in itself.

7.) The clear suggestion that the heroic torturers are never sadists, incompetent or misguided, let alone evil.

8.) Information gained from the torture leads to decisive action which saves the day, because the torture, of course, always works and always works in an entirely productive fashion which allows the sins involved to be entirely eclipsed by the thought of all the children and puppies who’ve been protected.

9.) An outcome which either ignores any suggestion that the victim of the torture will suffer any lasting ill-effects or which actively implies that they won’t.

10.) The sense that the hero or heroes who sanction and commit the torture will themselves suffer no lasting, dehumanising effects from their behaviour beyond a noble air of angst earned through the suffering which they – and not their victims – underwent as a result of the cutting and poking and burning and so on.

11.) The clear sense that torture is something which real heroes rise to, and which marks the truly super-heroic superhero as a figure willing and able to do anything in order to save the world once again.

Torture has been routinely used by “dark” superhero characters like Batman and Daredevil for so long – I’m really enjoying the Netflix Daredevil series, but I think this show uses torture even more than “24” did – it’s become normalized. By now, “light” superhero characters like Spider-Man and Captain America both use torture, and it’s seldom questioned. (Although it’s odd that in both those examples, the actual physical torturing was done by a “dark” female friend of the male hero, rather than by the male hero himself.)

I accept that in some genres, heroic characters do things that would be horrible in real life (like, you know, being a vigilante), and often that’s part of the fun. But the routine, fruitful use of torture by good guys in pop media – and not only in superhero films – worries me, because the typical American voter mainly learns about torture from pop culture, and the view of torture pop culture pushes is horrifying. If pop culture wasn’t so relentlessly pro-torture, would the American public be so quick to accept it when our government tortures?


  1. Later on Sitwell does get murdered by a villain – but the villain in question is VERY good-looking and on a redemption narrative arc, so that’s okay too, I guess. []
  2. Honorable exception: The Dark Knight, a movie in which Batman tortures two bad guys, and it doesn’t work either time. Unlike Frank Miller’s Dark Knight graphic novel, in which torture works. []
Posted in Popular (and unpopular) culture | 27 Comments  

A Quick Primer For Those Who Wonder What The Issue With Slate Voting And The Hugo Awards Is


This post is for those who have heard about the controversy over slate voting and the Hugo Awards, but don’t know exactly what that means in the context of the Hugos. I’m going to simplify for the sake of (relative) brevity. 1 .2


For any readers who don’t know, the Hugo Awards are an annual award given out for science fiction and fantasy works. The Hugos Awards are voted on in two rounds. The voters are members of Worldcon (anyone with $40 to spare can be a voting member).

In the first round, voters can write up to five works within each category on their voting ballot (categories include “best novel,” “best short story,” “best graphic story,” and so on).

Hundreds of works and creators are written in during the first round by over a thousand voters (iirc), but only five in each category – the five most popular among all voters, using a “first past the post” vote-counting method – get to be “nominees.” This is what people are referring to when they say a work or creator is “Hugo-nominated.”

In the second round, Hugo voters choose from among the five nominees per category, and one winner per category is chosen, using Instant Runoff Voting. (Voters can also vote “no award,” and if no award “wins” a category, then no award is given in that category that year.)


The current controversy over slate voting is specifically related to the first round of voting. Because the majority of Hugo voters spread their first-round votes among hundreds of different works per category, it takes a relatively small number of votes (40-60, iirc) for a work to be nominated for a Hugo.

Therefore, if a minority of 100 or so voters organizes as a bloc and votes in unison (or near-unison) for the same five works in each category, they alone will determine who gets nominated for a Hugo, while the majority of voters will have no effect on who gets nominated. This form of collective organizing is called “slate voting” or “bloc voting.”

There were two known slates this year, the Rabid Puppy slate and the Sad Puppy slate. The two slates overlapped significantly, and I will refer to them collectively as “Puppies.” In multiple Hugo categories, the Puppies controlled which five works were nominated, locking out the majority of Hugo voters from having an effect on the outcome. In other categories, the Puppies did not control all five nomination slots, but they still had a much greater effect than they would have if they had voted as individuals rather than collectively organizing.


(This section is less factual and more about my personal opinions.)

Slate voting is antidemocratic, since it is a way for a minority of Hugo voters to control the outcome of the Hugo nomination process.

Slate voting also breaks the longstanding understanding that Hugo voters are supposed to vote based on quality – that is, they’re supposed to vote for the works they as an individual consider the most outstanding work of the year.3 That hundreds of Puppy voters all individually decided to choose almost exactly the same 27 or so works as the most outstanding works of the year, and by a massive coincidence their individual favorite choices matched the works listed on the slates chosen by their leaders, is not a credible claim.

Finally, although the pre-Puppy status quo was not perfect, the Puppy’s slate tactics are exceptionally prone to nepotism and corruption, because the final decisions of which works went on Puppy slates were made by just a few leaders, who operated without any transparency.

As a result, some Hugo nominees this year seem to have been nominated for being pals with Brad Torgensen, who ran the Sad Puppies slate, rather than for producing work that is outstanding either in quality or popularity. And the Rabid Puppy slate strongly favored a previously-obscure Finnish publisher, a company owned by… the organizer of the Rabid Puppy slate.

Slate voting leads to political parties. “What institutional slate voting gets you, no matter how well-intentioned or how much it is aligned with your own views, is political parties. Nothing can get onto the ballot unless it’s part of a slate, so the people who run the slates become the kingmakers; any author who wants any chance at an award has to get in with one of them.”


Many have suggested that all that’s needed to reduce the influence of Slate voting is more voters, that is, for a larger number of people to vote in both rounds of Hugo voting. However, since Slate Voting is a strategy that mathematically allows a collectively organized minority to overcome the preferences of a disorganized majority, I don’t have much confidence in this proposal. (Although it is a nice idea for other reasons.)

Another proposal is the 4/6 proposal, in which individual Hugo voters can only nominate four works per category, and there will be six nominees per category. In this case, rather than a successful slate controlling 100% of nominees in each category, it will only control 66% of nominees in each category. If there are two slates, then the most successful slate will control 66% of nominees, while the next most successful slate will control the remaining 33% of slots. This seems like an insufficient solution, to me.

The proposal I favor is “Least Popular Elimination,” in which voters could still nominate up to five works per category, but the votes are counted in a way that mathematically favors works that appear on the broadest number of voters’ ballots while diluting (but not completely eliminating) the power of slate voting. A detailed explanation of “Least Popular Elimination” voting is available here. While LPE voting is not as intuitive as the other two proposals, I believe it would be more effective.4

  1. Disclosure: Although I’ve tried to be accurate, I am not neutral or objective, and I generally disagree with the Puppies on most things. []
  2. For a more detailed summary of events, see Freeping the Hugo Awards. []
  3. “Doing anything except nominating the works you personally liked best is cheating in my book.” — science fiction author Connie Willis. []
  4. This post began life as a comment on Feminist Critics. []
Posted in Elections and politics | 8 Comments  

In Which Amp Realizes That Two Arguments That Frustrate Me Are Actually The Same

As regular readers know (and by “know,” I mean, “are probably sick of hearing”), I’m against it when folks organize to economically punish others for their political views.

Very frequently, when I write or talk about this, I’ll run into some fellow lefty1 who doesn’t see any substantive difference between an organized boycott or blacklist against (say) hiring Orson Scott Card, and an individual reader choosing not to buy Card’s books.

Then I realized that one of the Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy arguments about the Hugo awards that I find most frustrating, is really the exact same argument. One side is saying that collective organization – be it an anti-OSC petition or slate voting – is substantively different than individuals making individual decisions. The other side is denying that there’s any meaningful difference.

I’m not saying the folks who disagree with me about petitions (who are usually people I like and respect) are Just Like The Puppies or anything like that. I’m not making any larger point at all, actually, so please don’t read a larger point into this; I just find the parallel striking.

  1. Some right-wingers have also supported firing people for their views; but most of the people I personally chat with about this are fellow lefties. []
Posted in Free speech, censorship, copyright law, etc. | 11 Comments