Posts tagged with: labor

minimum_wage_custom-8614e5bd8d516fbadd22d4a09fff441a70ba1596-s6-c301. Both sides of the debate believe they are arguing in defense of the poor. Most people who support or oppose minimum wage laws and/or increases share a common objective — helping the working poor. Because both sides have noble intentions, the merits of the debate over minimum wage laws and minimum wage increases should be based on empirical evidence that it will actually help, rather than harm, the poor.

2. Economists disagree about the effects of small increases in minimum wages. It’s true that economists disagree about the effects of the minimum wage on employment and the living standards of minimum wage earners. But almost all of the disagreement is about relatively small increases (less than 20%). Almost all economist agree that significant increases to the minimum wage or attempts to bring it in line with a “living wage” (e.g., $12-15 an hour) would lead to significant increases in unemployment. (President Obama’s proposal would only increase the federal minimum wage by $1.75 an hour.)

3. The primary argument for minimum wage increase is that is increases the value of the worker’s labor. — The efficiency wage theory of labor holds that higher real wages improve labor productivity by reducing worker turnover and the associated costs of hiring and training new workers, by reducing the incentive for workers to unionize, and by increasing the opportunity cost of being fired—thereby giving the worker incentive to be more productive. Under this view, small increases to the minimum wage will have no deleterious employment effects.

4. The primary argument against minimum wage increases is that it discriminates against those who have low-skills. Milton Friedman once described the minimum wage as a requirement that “employers must discriminate against people who have low skills.” As Anthony Davies explains, “the minimum wage prevents some of the least skilled, least educated, and least experienced workers from participating in the labor market because it discourages employers from taking a chance by hiring them. In other words, workers compete for jobs on the basis of education, skill, experience, and price. Of these factors, the only one on which the lesser-educated, lesser-skilled, and lesser-experienced worker can compete is price.”

5. The minimum wage redistributes wealth from the low-skilled poor to the more skilled working poor and middle class. Many supporters of minimum wage increases mistakenly believe that increases in wage rates are transfers of wealth from employers and investors to the workers. But as Anthony Davis explains, the money to pay for the increased wage must come from at least one of four places: higher prices for consumers, lower returns to investors, lower prices to suppliers, or a reduced work-force. Empirical research has shown that the primary effect of minimum wage increases is reduced employment, which essentially transfers the wealth (in unearned wages) from the less skilled to the more skilled working poor and middle-class teenagers.
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In his latest column, Tyler Cowen points out that whatever economic recovery we’ve experienced has “largely bypassed young people,” arguing that such a development is bound to have an impact for years to come:

For Americans aged 16 to 24 who aren’t enrolled in school, the employment picture is grim. Only 36 percent are working full time, down 10 percentage points from 2007. Longer term, the overall labor-force participation rate for that age group has dropped 20 percentage points for men and 14 points for women since 1989.

This lack of jobs will damage the long-term careers of a big chunk of the next working generation. Not working after you finish school very often means missing out on developing the skills and habits that will serve you well later on. The current employment numbers are therefore like a telescope into the future labor market: a 23-year-old who is working part time as a dog walker, yoga instructor or retail clerk may be having fun, but perhaps will receive fewer promotions as a 47-year-old.

Cowen notes a higher minimum wage as one potential culprit, but argues that “the root causes run much deeper,” ranging from increasing uncertainty to expanding globalization to a newfound pickiness among employers. Arnold Kling offers some additional hypotheses, including the idea that decreases in child-rearing among the young-and-able will likely lead to decreases in a need or desire to work full-time. (more…)

Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe has made a career out of elevating down-and-dirty labor, constantly reminding us to never take for granted the hands of those who keep society moving. The show was recently cancelled, but Rowe continues to spread his message, most recently in the cover story of the latest issue of Guideposts magazine (HT).

The article is a moving tribute to Rowe’s grandfather (“Pop”), who was skilled at a variety of trades, from electric work to plumbing to welding to carpentry. “He could do pretty much anything,” Rowe writes.

Rowe would tag along with his grandfather on various projects, watching him work and repair things with ease. “Pop was a magician, and his talents a great mystery,” Rowe writes. “As his would-be apprentice, I mimicked his every move.”

Yet without Pop’s “mechanical gene,” Rowe often felt inadequate and incapable. After one Saturday spent building a patio, he let his frustration show: (more…)

As noted here last week, Obamacare is seen by some as an elitist system of health care, rather than the equalizing force it purports to be. This week, the news is that the nation’s unions aren’t happy with how Obamacare is shaping up for them, obamacare waiverand the Obama administration is scrambling to find new ways to entice them to publicly support the Affordable Health Care Act.

Richard Trumpka, president of the AFL-CIO (the nation’s largest labor union), is saying that the Obamacare plan wasn’t thought through well enough, and is stepping back from fully backing the plan. He wants to see the 30 hour work week endorsed as full-time under the plan, mainly to help workers in industries like fast food. According to The Washington Times:

Critics of the law say the 30-hour cutoff has forced fast-food chains and other employers to trim employees’ hours to keep them at part-time status and avoid penalties tied to the law’s employer mandate, which requires companies with 50 or more full-time workers to provide health coverage or pay fines.

“That is obviously something that no one intended,” he [Trumka] said during a wide-ranging interview hosted by the Christian Science Monitor in Washington.

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noun_project_8671For this week’s Acton Commentary, ahead of Labor Day weekend, I write about “working harder and smarter,” lessons we can learn from Ashton Kutcher and Mike Rowe.

One of the implications of connecting hard work with smart work is that the difficulty of work on its own does not determine its value in the marketplace. It isn’t a question of how hard you are working, but how hard you are working in productive service. This is why Lester DeKoster writes,

The paycheck follows upon work. Often the harder we work, the larger the paycheck—though, as many workers know, this unfortunately is not an invariable law. That is because, as we shall see, work and wage are not related as cause and effect.

He refers to money as the “bait,” which induces us to work and which tends to direct our work in service to others. But the bait can become a “trap” if we conflate the meaning of work with the wage: “Work endows life with meaning because of what work is, not because of what it earns. Paychecks buy goods and services provided to us through the gift of selves by others, but money buys no meaning. Life’s meanings are not for sale!”
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wmartIn light of the ongoing discussion over fast-food wages, I recently wrote that prices are not play things, urging that we reach beyond the type of minimum mindedness that orients our imaginations around artificial tweaking at the bottom instead of authentic value creation toward the top. Prices don’t equip us the whole story, but they do tell us something valuable about the needs of others and how we might maximize our service to society.

But though I have a hearty appreciation for the role that low-wage employers like McDonald’s play — due in large part to my 5-year stint working for The Ronald — I’m also grateful that other companies like Costco are able to provide higher wages to many low-skilled workers.

When we observe such differences — one prosperous company paying $7 per hour while another pays $12 — it can be easy to get worked up, pointing our fingers at greedy executives, idols of efficiency, unwise allocation of company funds, etc. Yet while any assortment of these drivers may indeed contribute to how wages are set, and though executives bear heavy moral responsibility on such matters, it’s helpful to remember that (1) we’re greatly limited in understanding the books of the companies we critique, and (2) executives aren’t the only ones influencing prices.

Over at Bloomberg, Megan McCardle does a marvelous deep-dive on this very sort of thing, starting with a comparison of Costco and Walmart wherein she ponders why the former offers higher wages than the latter.

A summary:

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NRO’s Mark Steyn minces no words when it comes to his distaste for Obamacare: “a hierarchy of privileges,” he calls it, along with “crappy” and “inefficient.” healthcare_reform

First, Steyn points out that it’s doubtful anyone has read the “comprehensive” health care act: it’s a thousand pages long. As he says, the problem with something so “comprehensive” is that “when everything’s in it, nothing’s in it.” But worst of all, it means whatever the government wants it to mean:

The Affordable Care Act means whatever President Obama says it means on any particular day of the week. Whether it applies to you this year, next year, or not at all depends on the whim of the sovereign, and whether your CEO golfs with him on Martha’s Vineyard. A few weeks back, the president unilaterally suspended the law’s employer mandate. Under the U.S. Constitution, he doesn’t have the power to do this, but judging from the American people’s massive shrug of indifference he might as well unilaterally suspend the Constitution, too. Obamacare is not a law, in the sense that all persons are equal before it, but a hierarchy of privilege; for example, senators value their emir-sized entourages and don’t want them to quit, so it is necessary to provide the flunkies who negotiated and drafted the Affordable Care Act an exemption from the legislation they imposed on the citizenry. Once again, the opt-out is not legal.

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Delta Airlines has announced that it foresees a spike in health care costs for the company to the tune of $100 million a year. A Delta executive, Robert Kight, has said that fees associated with Obamacare will be costly, but won’t likely be more health care costsbeneficial than what the company’s employees now have.

One of the costly items pertains to an annual fee of $63 per “covered participant” next year. The company estimates this means a more than $10 million expense in 2014. The catch for Delta is that, because many of their employees insure through Delta, the fee meant to help subsidize the health care law’s coverage amounts to a “direct subsidy” from the company that provides “zero direct benefit to our participants,” Kight said. (more…)

boss moneyIn light of the latest hubbub over the minimum wage, I recently wrote that “prices are not play things,” arguing that we do ourselves and our neighbors no favors by trying to subvert and distort market signals according to arbitrary whims. Instead, I argue, we should reach beyond such low-ball thinking, focusing on creation and contribution rather than sitting and settling.

Over at Think Christian, Jordan Ballor offers some related thoughts, including a helpful reminder that while prices matter, wages do not represent a “commentary on the value of the human person as such.” Tying our self-worth to marketplace value, he argues, “can be a misleading and potentially destructive identification.”

In Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster pushes heavily in this same direction, going so far as to say that although work and wages move on “parallel tracks,” “neither track is the cause of the other or the goal of the other”:

What is a just wage? It is a paycheck that recognizes the personal relationships that underlie work and civilization. Involved are both the needs of the worker – at all levels – and success of the enterprise – in which all are involved…[T]hose whose work is concerned with the creation and administration of wage and price scales must be economic artists whose jobs bear heavy moral responsibility. What the traffic will bear or wage scales that only grim necessity will oblige the poor to accept are artistic guidelines that enjoy no endorsement from heaven. The search for just wage and fair price is never-ending, for the market is always changing and so are the forms required of work. Economic justice is by no means universal even in the best of civilizations.

How, then, do they relate? (more…)

Wizard of Id - Minimum WageThe protests organized by labor organizations to advocate for an increase in the minimum wage have garnered attention, most recently from the NYT, which editorialized in favor of such moves. Over at Think Christian, I weigh in with an attempt to provide some more of the complex context behind the moral evaluation of such mandates.

In the piece, I’m really less interested in the plight of current-minimum wage workers relative to those who might become minimum-wage workers with an increase, those who are currently priced-out of labor markets because of minimum-wage legislation, and those who will be priced out with an increase.

Earlier this week, Joseph Sunde discussed the issue with an eye towards the price of labor: “Prices are not play things.” I largely agree with Joseph about the significance of the price associated with various kinds of labor. The signal that minimum-wage workers should be receiving is that their work is not that specialized or valuable in the marketplace. You can rage against the values of the marketplace all you like, but that’s what the prices signal.
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