It was a warm and fuzzy feature. It was on CBS’s “60 Minutes” and told how American Samoa produced a wildly disproportionate number of NFL football players for its population of 65,000.
It was nice to be hearing something positive amidst all the current sadness until the announcer mentioned in passing how the economy of that South Pacific territory had been ruined by a minimum-wage mandate from Congress.
What? Could it be that Congress had again found a way to wreck people’s lives?
I looked it up. It is true. In 2007, Congress bypassed the usual method of having the Labor Department adjust American Samoa wage minimums and dictated that the current $3.76 for canning fish would increase to $7.25 in stages by 2014. It wasn’t all that long before Chicken of the Sea said goodbye, we’re gone, have fun.
That meant a loss of 2,041 jobs right there, and the next thing you knew, Star Kist also was reducing jobs, and if you think a couple thousand jobs here and another thousand or two there don’t mean anything, understand that when you put all the possible losses together, you are talking about more than a fourth of the employment picture on those islands.
For better than a half century, canning has been the heart of economy in American Samoa, as the territory has sent the United States a reported two-thirds of the canned tuna bought here. No wonder we learn from one writer that Samoans themselves didn’t want this new minimum.
Given competition from Thailand (pay at 60 cents an hour) and a host of other factors, they knew the hike could kill the industry locally. And even though the Obama administration has recently delayed the next round of wage increases, it looks possible that the demise has all but occurred with little to no chance of resurrection.
All of this is incredible because dozens of studies during past decades have proven beyond any reasonable doubt that minimum-wage hikes invariably do more harm than good, often eliminating jobs or making them part time. Beginners don’t get a chance to get a foothold and start the climb to better things.
It’s hardly ever heads of households who hold the minimum-wage jobs, but other contributors who suddenly aren’t making anything to contribute. Small businesses that might eventually have grown into large businesses get flattened. And meanwhile, we are talking about a tiny fraction of hourly workers who make the minimum, something under 2 percent.
So what you get with these hikes are strutting, obnoxious politicians pretending to be great benefactors of the human race at the same time they are kicking people to economic death. We are seeing a lot of this kind of thing in Washington, D.C., today — a stimulus bill that cost as much as the Iraq war and has stimulated very nearly nothing, and, most famously at the moment, health care legislation that could help throw this country into an economic tailspin as it achieves nothing to improve health care, and not a fraction of what was promised in any other regard.
And, of course, President Barack Obama has another minimum-wage hike in mind for the country as a whole after he finishes up some other mischief, ranging from plans to make illegal immigrants legal to plans to strangle the possibilities of recession-ending growth with new missions adopted by his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
For the moment, I am feeling especially sorry for the Samoans. That “60 Minutes” episode showed what a truly special spirit they seem to have. They are now going to need it for a lot more than football success.
Examiner columnist Jay Ambrose is a former Washington opinion writer and editor of two dailies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.