The campaign for a $15 per hour minimum wage has become one of the keystones of Democratic economic policy. Its conceptual underpinning is something called in econ-speak the “downwards inelasticity of employment” with respect to wages. At the Wall Street Journal Michael Saltsman discusses a Congressional Budget Office report that to my mind demolishes the case for a $15/hour minimum wage:
Democrats pledged a $15-an-hour minimum wage while campaigning in 2018, and all but three of the party’s 2020 presidential candidates endorse the increase. But a new report from the Congressional Budget Office finds the policy could leave nearly four million workers without a job.
This week’s analysis is an update of CBO’s 2014 analysis of a $10.10 minimum wage, which said one million workers would be pulled out of poverty at the cost of half a million jobs. That conclusion was enough to tank the proposal; a Bloomberg poll at the time found that 57% of Americans viewed the jobs trade-off as “unacceptable.”
Democrats have responded to CBO’s wage warning by ignoring it. The Raise the Wage Act of 2019, introduced in January, would set a $15 minimum wage by 2024. The trade-offs from this legislation are even worse than in 2014. CBO finds a $15 minimum wage would pull 1.3 million workers out of poverty at the cost of 1.3 million jobs in the median scenario, and 3.7 million jobs in the worst-case scenario.
Here’s a verbatim quote from the report cited above:
In an average week in 2025, the $15 option would boost the wages of 17 million workers who would otherwise earn less than $15 per hour. Another 10 million workers otherwise earning slightly more than $15 per hour might see their wages rise as well. But 1.3 million other workers would become jobless, according to CBO’s median estimate. There is a twothirds chance that the change in employment would be between about zero and a decrease of 3.7 million workers. The number of people with annual income below the poverty threshold in 2025 would fall by 1.3 million.
To my eye that fails to meet the moral standards for a $15/hour minimum wage let alone the pragmatic standards. My advice: try something else. From a cost benefit standpoint an increase to $10/hour is much better although it, too, rests on shaky moral grounds.
Persisting in campaigning for a $15/hour minimum wage at this point would suggest that your actual objectives in a $15/hour minimum wage are something other than helping the people you’re claiming you want to help. Objectives that have been suggested are to render non-unionized mininum wage workers non-competitive with unionized ones which seems pretty convoluted to me or giving unions with minimum wage multiple contracts an automatic raise.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percent of hourly workers who receive the minimum wage or less is 2.3% of hourly workers, about 1% of total workers. They tend to be young, in the South, and work in the restaurant and food service sector. It would be interesting to see the effect of increasing the minimum wage on rents since the states that have increased their minimum wages also have higher rates of homelessness.