Thursday, 1 August 2019

Who pays for the minimum wage?

This question is asked in a new article, Who Pays for the Minimum Wage?, in the latest issue (Vol. 109, No. 8, August 2019) of the American Economic Review.

The paper is by Peter Harasztosi and Attila Lindner and looks at the margins along which firms responded to a large and persistent minimum wage increase in Hungary. It finds that the employment elasticities are small, but negative.

The abstract reads,
This paper provides a comprehensive assessment of the margins along which firms responded to a large and persistent minimum wage increase in Hungary. We show that employment elasticities are negative but small even four years after the reform; that around 75 percent of the minimum wage increase was paid by consumers and 25 percent by firm owners; that firms responded to the minimum wage by substituting labor with capital; and that disemployment effects were greater in industries where passing the wage costs to consumers is more difficult. We estimate a model with monopolistic competition to explain these findings.

Bad economic justifications for minimum wage hikes

Ryan Bourne has authored a recent paper at the Cato Institute on Bad Economic Justifications for Minimum Wage Hikes.

The bad reasons he gives are,
  • A solution to a market failure?
  • To keep pace with productivity trends?
  • Costs of living
  • Poverty
His conclusion reads,
The metrics that $15 minimum wage advocates use to make the case for substantial minimum wage hikes are not, on their own, economically sensible benchmarks by which to set minimum wage rates.

Economy-wide productivity growth can be a poor guide to productivity trends for minimum wage workers and different localities, and it tells us little about whether firms have the power to set below-market wage levels.

Housing and childcare costs are unrelated to firms’ ability to pay or the value of the work minimum wage employees undertake. And comparing the income of someone working full-time at the federal minimum wage to existing poverty thresholds ignores the role of anti-poverty programs and the fact that many minimum wage earners are not poor.

Campaigners’ arguments often imply that minimum wages should be linked to productivity measures, living costs, or poverty thresholds. The evidence presented above suggests that translating these arguments into policy could produce damaging labor market outcomes.

Bernie Sanders and bad justifications for minimum wage hikes

This audio is from the Cato Daily Podcast.
The tiff between workers for the Bernie Sanders campaign and the campaign leadership illustrates some of the tradeoffs inherent in mandating wage floors. Ryan Bourne is author of a new paper on minimum wage hikes and bad justifications for them.