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New Study: Minimum Wage Hurts Low-Skilled Workers

James W. Harris Comments

(From the Activist Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 25 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

A new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research brings new weight to the argument that significant minimum wage increases hurt the very people they are intended to help — low-skilled workers, especially teens and minority workers.

minimum wageEconomists Jeffrey Clemens and Michael Wither examine the effects of the minimum wage increases in 2007, 2008 and 2009. They find that minimum wage increases have three devastating effects upon low-skilled workers: “minimum wage increases reduced the employment, average income, and income growth of low-skilled workers over short and medium-run time horizons.”

The study indicates that the minimum wage can keep low-skilled workers from moving up to a middle class income; such workers experience “significant declines in economic mobility.” Charles Hughes of the Cato Institute explains:

“Many of the people affected by minimum wage increases are on one of the first rungs of the economic ladder, low on marketable skills and experience. Working in these entry level jobs will eventually allow them to move up the economic ladder. By making it harder for these low-skilled workers to get on the first rung of the ladder, minimum wage increases could actually lower their chances of reaching the middle class.”

Adding weight to these findings is a report earlier this year by the non-partisan federal Congressional Budget Office estimating that a three-year phase in of a $10.10 federal minimum wage option would reduce total employment by a stunning 500,000 workers.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist of the U.S. Department of Labor, nicely summed up at MarketWatch the massive problems created for low-skill workers by the minimum wage:

“Minimum-wage laws criminalize low-skill work. Imagine being forbidden to work. That is the case for people with skills under $8.25 an hour. The federal hourly minimum wage is $7.25, and additional costs, such as Social Security, unemployment insurance, and workers compensation bring the cost of employment closer to $8.25. The minimum wage is one reason why the teen unemployment rate is 18%, the youth (20 to 24) unemployment rate is 11%, and the African-American teen unemployment rate is 28%. Those groups have markedly lower skills than average. …

“When the minimum wage is set above someone’s skill level, that person is left on the sidelines. If people cannot get their first job, how can they get their second or third? People who take minimum-wage jobs gain entry to the professional world. Once they are in, they can keep rising.”

A short, highly readable summary of the negative effects of the minimum wage is the 2004 booklet “Minimum Wage, Maximum Damage: How the Minimum Wage Law Destroys Jobs, Perpetuates Poverty, and Erodes Freedom” by Jim Cox, published by the Advocates and available at our online Liberty Store.

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