THE ADMINISTRATION continues to press the summer youth subminimum wage. The assumption is that letting employers pay $2.50 an hour will create many new summer jobs for teen-agers. Of course, all the youths who would otherwise get jobs at the regular $3.35 minimum would be considerably worse off -- and some needy adults might be beaten out of jobs by bargain-rate youngsters. But those losses could be worth it if enough needy teen-agers, who otherwise would have been unemployed, were to get jobs. After all, as Mayor Marion Barry observed before a Senate committee last week, "a job paying $2.50 an hour beats no job at all."
But would a subminimum wage really create the hundreds of thousands of new jobs that the administration predicts with its econometric models? We think the answer is: No. Consider a few questions. If big employers of youth are currently being held back by high wages, why are so many of them paying much more than the minimum wage to attract the workers they need -- and still coming up short? And if small businesses are so eager to hire low- wage teen-agers, why don't they mail in the card that, under current law, already allows them to hire as many as six youths at below-minimum wages? Why don't more employers take advantage of the Targeted Jobs Tax Credit that lets them hire needy young people for a net cost of only 50 cents an hour?
The fact is that the law already offers ample opportunity to employers who want to hire youths at below-minimum wages, but some don't want to be bothered and most find that other factors, such as getting good workers when they need them, are more important. Labor Secretary William Brock seems to realize that, and he is wooing congressional opponents of the youth subminimum with the idea of also experimenting with s to deal with the real impediments that keep many minority youths out of jobs.
That would be a more salable idea, but it is not realistic. The administration and the Senate are currently seeking further deep cuts in what remains of government job-assistance programs, and these cuts are needed to reduce the federal deficit.