In his State of the Union Address last week, President Obama called for yet greater federal interference in the economy via a $1.75 per hour minimum wage hike, from $7.25 to $9.00, with additional increases tagged to inflation.
New York Times gossip columnist Paul Krugman opined that, “surprisingly,” increasing the minimum wage may be good policy: “Why ‘surprisingly’? Well, Economics 101 tells us to be very cautious about attempts to legislate market outcomes.” No, I didn’t make up that disclaimer; that’s just Krugman trying to sucker you in with a little false modesty. Don’t worry—he still comes out all in favor of the wage increase.
And what an increase it would be: Raising the minimum wage $1.75 an hour would be by far the biggest single hike since the federal minimum wage was established in 1938. The next biggest increase—of $0.70 an hour—occurred three times in 2007, 2008, and 2009, when newly sworn-in Democrats spiked the rate three years in a row. Before the 2006 wave of Democrats rode into power, the minimum wage had never increased more than $0.50 at a time.
The proposed 24% increase would be the largest hike by percentage since 1974, when Congress raised it 25% from $1.60 to $2.00.
So what’s the argument for raising the minimum wage? Proponents claim that raising it:
(1) Is moral, because workers at the bottom of the economic ladder will earn more;
(2) Helps the economy, because those workers will spend more and stimulate the economy;
(3) Increases employment, because more spending will lead to more hiring.
(Never mind that the employers who will supposedly do all that extra hiring will be the ones paying their workers to buy more of their products in the first place.)
In contrast, opponents argue that raising the minimum wage:
(1) Is immoral, because it restricts employers’ ability to hire low-wage workers, and thus reduces their employment;
(2) Hurts the economy, because it forces employers to direct financial resources in less efficient ways;
(3) Decreases employment, because small businesses can’t keep up with the need to increase all of their workers’ wages to maintain relative parity.
So what happens after minimum wage increases take effect? Do employers hire more or less? Does the economy improve or worsen?
To answer this question, I took a look at all federal minimum wage increases since World War II, to see what transpired after these hikes—in particular, what happened to the unemployment rate and the gross domestic product (GDP).
First I looked at the monthly U.S. national unemployment rate following the passage of each post-WWII federal minimum wage increase, to see what effect minimum wage legislation had on employment. I found that the average unemployment rate during the first full month after each minimum wage increase, for all increases from January 25, 1950 to July 24, 2009, was 6.00%. From three months out through ten months out, the average monthly national unemployment rate progressed as follows: 6.01%, 6.09%, 6.10%, 6.11%, 6.13%, 6.23%, 6.25%, and 6.33%. So over the ten months following mandatory federal minimum wage increases, the unemployment rate steadily and reliably increased, on average a third of a percentage point from what it had been upon passage of the law.
Next I looked at the quarterly percent change in GDP following passage of each hike, to see what effect minimum wage legislation had on GDP. The average percent change in GDP for all quarters from 1950 to 2012 was +3.31%. In contrast, the average percent change in GDP during the first full quarter after each wage increase was +2.48%, almost a full point lower. In the second quarter after the wage increase, the percent change was +3.00%, and in the third it was +2.63%.
These aren’t huge differences, largely because many factors besides minimum wage affect employment and GDP. Other economists have done more detailed studies and isolated the deleterious effects of minimum wage laws. But even my cursory analysis confirms that Krugman and his ilk are loons if they think that placing restrictions on employers’ hiring practices—which is what minimum wage laws do—will somehow increase hiring and strengthen the economy. (Other pet theories of Krugman’s are that wearing leg irons helps you walk faster and having laryngitis makes you speak more mellifluously.)
Krugman pooh-poohs the detrimental effects of minimum wage increases: “Now, you might argue that even if the current minimum wage seems low, raising it would cost jobs. But there’s evidence on that question… And while there are dissenters, as there always are, the great preponderance of the evidence from these natural experiments points to little if any negative effect of minimum wage increases on employment.”
Krugman is such a pathological liar that when he says “the great preponderance” of evidence shows “little if any” negative effect, you know he’s brushing aside mountains of data contradicting his position. Krugman cites just one paper titled “Why Does the Minimum Wage Have No Discernible Effect on Employment?,” published by leftist D.C. think tank the Center for Economic and Policy Research, whose founder recently authored a book called “The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive.”
If liberals want a minimum wage hike, why don’t they just come right out and demand more redistribution of wealth from the bourgeois to the proletariat? Could they spare us the act of dressing up their request in convoluted economic theories using data that can be manipulated to give them any results they want, and whose conclusions no one with common sense believes?
Previously published in modified form at Red Alert Politics
- Paul Krugman: Raising The Minimum Wage Is ‘Good Policy’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- CHECKMATE: Paul Krugman Falls Into a Trap (economicpolicyjournal.com)
- Obama’s Higher Minimum Wage Will Hurt the Poor and Help the Unions (hawaiireporter.com)
- Should the Minimum Wage Be Raised? (usnews.com)
- The Awful Minimum Wage (forbes.com)