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Edwards' vision manifests through oyster shucking

If you want an illustration of the shortsightedness and stupidity of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ policies, generally speaking, check out oyster shucking.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a feature on a day in the life of working at an oyster processing plant. The industry pays a couple of bucks above minimum wage, although high producers can earn more, to a workforce almost exclusively foreign – legal immigrants brought in under a seasonal guest worker program, because almost no American citizens will work the job. At the facility profiled, of those citizens who do, they significantly underperform compared to the foreigners.

Perhaps paying higher wages might attract more Americans to the job, which takes a narrow but necessary skill set to develop, or make them more reliable: the company in question says that the American workers miss many more days of work than do the legal immigrants. At the same time, raising wages too much more, asserts the company, would drive up costs significantly in the labor-intensive industry and price out fare that includes oysters from most buyers.

That logic seems to have escaped Edwards and his fellow travelers who keep insisting, despite the research that demonstrates hiking the artificially-priced minimum wage would depress economic activity that costs jobs, especially at the lower end of the wage scale, that Louisiana ought to do exactly that. The anecdotal evidence from the processor also amplifies that current generous welfare policies, unavailable to noncitizens, in part lay behind the idea that to attract a citizen workforce wages must increase, because common welfare programs pay out so much that these discourage work.

For example, in Louisiana, in the seven most used welfare programs a mother of two would have to work for an equivalent of $10.70 an hour before taxes (2013 data) to match the value of benefits, or over 72 percent of the median income in the state and 136 percent of the federal poverty limit. And, because of tax considerations, the actual amount in welfare benefits is over $4,000 higher; in essence, a penalty payable by working. Without government paying so much for people not to work, undoubtedly demand by citizens for these jobs would increase, keeping more money in the country both because of lower taxes and/or debt to fund these welfare programs and because citizens would earn this money.

Again, such obvious advantages make no impression on Edwards and his allies, as indicated by his recent move to allow able-bodied, younger individuals to continue to draw Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program monies without having to work or volunteer at least 20 hours a week or study for a skill. That $194 or so a month represents 14 percent of the monthly wages of a minimum wage worker, and without this cushion maybe those people might have more incentive to take a shucking job; certainly Edwards’ lame requirement promulgated by executive order that they should make an effort to find a job does little to encourage unemployed SNAP recipients in this category to take jobs.

Note, in fact, that the two work at cross-purposes. By creating incentives for people to stay out of the workforce, this props up wages as employers have to compete against tax dollars for the services of those not skilled and/or not very willing to work. So then raising the minimum wage and passing that cost along to society becomes needed to entice the unmotivated and/or shrewd (enough to understand government will pay them to sit out), thereby hitting up society’s producers twice – through the extra taxes they pay to fund the welfare state and in the higher prices they must suffer.

Thus, these two items of the Edwards agenda – raise the minimum wage and prevent imposition of meaningful work requirements for recipients of SNAP – find their expression in the failure of Americans of low skills and educational levels to take a demanding of job shucking oysters. They won’t work unless they are paid above the actual value of the labor being provided, or won’t work at the more difficult job because it’s easier to take something much less taxing (and be able regularly to check leisurely on their Obama phones) or just to let the government benefits roll in while pretending to look for work, into infinity.

If your governing ideology envisions a dependent class reliably voting for you in order to continue redistributing wealth to give its members increased choice whether to work, then Edwards’ policies in this area are for you. If you believe more people should be asked to pull the wagon instead of riding in it – or paying noncitizens to work in their place – the Edwards agenda subverts that.

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