You don't need an economics degree to figure that it's tough, if not impossible, to live on $7.25 an hour.
But you also don't need an economics degree to figure that lots of small businesses, and even some big ones, would lay off lots of low-wage workers if the federal minimum wage were raised to $10.10 an hour.
Still, the Congressional Budget Office shined a timely, authoritative light on that risk this week, projecting that while such a minimum-wage boost would elevate the earnings of 16.5 million Americans, it would also eliminate 500,000 jobs. That adds credence to the warnings of congressional Republicans who oppose the large minimum-wage hike advocated by President Barack Obama and the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill.
On Tuesday, the White House disputed the CBO's conclusion. Jason Furman, head of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, wrote in a blog post:
"The bulk of academic studies have concluded that the effects on unemployment of minimum wage increases in the range now under consideration are likely to be small to nonexistent."
But how? Certainly the nearly 40 percent minimum-wage hike that the president seeks isn't "small."
Again, it shouldn't take a complex labor-market analysis to understand that a steep climb in the minimum wage would inflict significant new expenses on enterprises that employ minimum-wage workers.
That, in turn, would seem bound to inflict a significant reduction in low-wage jobs.
On the other hand, the minimum wage hasn't been raised since 2009. A reasonable boost - far less than the one pushed by the president - could help low-wage workers without putting so many of their jobs in peril.
As for the grim reality that you can't live on the minimum wage, that's not a new phenomenon. Many entry-level, low-paying jobs have long paid less than a living wage.
Still, the Great Recession has forced far too many Americans into trying to get by on low and even minimum wages. And some GOP lawmakers are proposing an expansion of the earned income tax credit as a practical way to assist the working poor.
Meanwhile, however, as elected officials from both parties in Washington debate this issue, they should beware of the bad that good intentions - and excessive government regulations - can do.
And they should realize that at this point in a still-shaky economic recovery, Congress should not pass any bill that the CBO says would kill half a million jobs.
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