New Orleans While much of the country is stuck at the level of the federal minimum wage, there are enough states and cities that have nudged the numbers up that economists and others are starting to be able to tell with certainty whether the competing claims are correct. Opponents argue that raising wages above plantation level reduces the number of jobs. Proponents, and I’m in that number, have claimed that the benefits of increasing wages, lowering inequality, and putting more money into local economies, wildly offsets any small job loss, if in fact, any jobs at all are lost.
Arindrajit Dube, an economist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, did a study of state minimum wage increases in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Massachusetts, and New York. These states had bumped up the numbers in recent years to at least $10.50 per hour through 2018. The impact would have been directly felt by 20% of the workforce, not counting the multiplier impact of increases for other workers in order to prevent compression of wages causing non-minimum wage workers to feel crimped and resentful of the increases. Professor Dube found that the job losses were minimal, although not painless. He found that some businesses raised prices, others improved production methodology, and some actually absorbed the increases by reducing their profit margins.
All of this is good news for our case. Additional studies in New York State, as well as reporting by the New York Times, seem to confirm that even in the border counties between New York, with an escalating minimum wage now, and Pennsylvania still stuck at $7.25, there were minimal adverse impacts for workers on job losses. Obviously, it helps that the economy has been good and unemployment low, making this an ideal time, economically, to push wages up from the bottom.
In the days of ACORN’s living wage campaigns, we have gone back and forth over the years with Professor David Neumark, an economist at the University of California at Irvine, who has long studied minimum wage impacts on workers. He cautions that the results in these relatively higher wage states might not translate in the South “where low-wage workers aren’t evenly distributed across industries and ‘you have fewer and fewer avenues of adjustment.’” Since there’s absolutely no immediate danger of Southern states getting the raise wages religion for workers, it will be awhile before we have to struggle with this problem. Meanwhile we are forced to live through the galloping gap between lower wage and higher wage states that is occurring with no action on the federal minimum wage, meant to cope with this problem.
Now, if only the reason that wages weren’t rising was based on the facts, rather than stone cold ideology, we would be in good shape.