Obama is proposing a hike to the minimum wage rate, so that employers are forced to pay the youngest and/or least skilled workers more money than they are worth. Will this lower unemployment?
When considering what economic policies to adopt, it is not enough to do what feels good. Liberals and conservatives agree that it is good to help the poor. Liberals think that higher minimum wage rates help the poor, and conservatives think that lower minimum wage rates help the poor. This is not a topic that is up for debate, though, because economists across the left-right spectrum agree on this one.
Take a look at this post from Harvard University economist Greg Mankiw.
My favorite textbook covers business cycle theory toward the end of the book (the last four chapters) precisely because that theory is controversial. I believe it is better to introduce students to economics with topics about which there is more of a professional consensus. In chapter two of the book, I include a table of propositions to which most economists subscribe, based on various polls of the profession. Here is the list, together with the percentage of economists who agree:
- A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available. (93%)
- Tariffs and import quotas usually reduce general economic welfare. (93%)
- Flexible and floating exchange rates offer an effective international monetary arrangement. (90%)
- Fiscal policy (e.g., tax cut and/or government expenditure increase) has a significant stimulative impact on a less than fully employed economy. (90%)
- The United States should not restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries. (90%)
- The United States should eliminate agricultural subsidies. (85%)
- Local and state governments should eliminate subsidies to professional sports franchises. (85%)
- If the federal budget is to be balanced, it should be done over the business cycle rather than yearly. (85%)
- The gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged. (85%)
- Cash payments increase the welfare of recipients to a greater degree than do transfers-in-kind of equal cash value. (84%)
- A large federal budget deficit has an adverse effect on the economy. (83%)
- A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers. (79%)
- The government should restructure the welfare system along the lines of a “negative income tax.” (79%)
- Effluent taxes and marketable pollution permits represent a better approach to pollution control than imposition of pollution ceilings. (78%)
And that’s not all. There have actually been studies done on this, and they echo the consensus.
Consider this 2009 article from the Wall Street Journal that discusses some of the studies.
Earlier this year, economist David Neumark of the University of California, Irvine, wrote on these pages that the 70-cent-an-hour increase in the minimum wage would cost some 300,000 jobs. Sure enough, the mandated increase to $7.25 took effect in July, and right on cue the August and September jobless numbers confirm the rapid disappearance of jobs for teenagers.
he September teen unemployment rate hit 25.9%, the highest rate since World War II and up from 23.8% in July. Some 330,000 teen jobs have vanished in two months. Hardest hit of all: black male teens, whose unemployment rate shot up to a catastrophic 50.4%. It was merely a terrible 39.2% in July.
[…]Two years ago Mr. Neumark and William Wascher, a Federal Reserve economist, reviewed more than 100 academic studies on the impact of the minimum wage. They found “overwhelming” evidence that the least skilled and the young suffer a loss of employment when the minimum wage is increased.
[…]State lawmakers are also at fault. At least 10 states have raised their minimum wages above the federal level in the last decade, largely in response to union lobbying and in the name of helping the working poor. Four states with among the highest wage rates are California, Massachusetts, Michigan and New York. Studies have shown in each case that their wage policies killed jobs for teens. The Massachusetts teen employment rate sank by one-third when the minimum wage rose by 88% between 1995 and 2008.
According to new numbers from the Labor Department, in 2008 only 1.1% of Americans who work 40 hours a week or more even earned the minimum wage. In other words, 98.9% of 40-hour-a-week workers earn more than the minimum. The data also show that teenagers are five times more likely to earn the minimum wage than adults. Minimum wage jobs are nearly all first-time or part-time jobs, and an estimated two of every three minimum wage workers get a pay raise within a year on the job.
You can read more about minimim wage and unemployment from my second favorite economist Walter Williams, and from my first favorite economist Thomas Sowell. This is an issue that matters to them, because they are both black, and blacks are the hardest hit by these policies – even though most blacks support these policies by voting overwhelmingly for socialists.
This issue is simple and straightforward. To help the poorest and least experienced workers, we have to take away any regulations that separate them from their first employer. From there, they will gain the experience to move up. Nobody stays in a minimum wage job all their lives. They move up when they get experience and a resume. That’s why that first job is so crucial. We have to make it easier for employers to get employees started in their careers.