Posts tagged with: Living wage

outofworkIn almost every long-term clash over a cultural or political policy, there comes a point that I’d call the “comfort-level concession.” If the agenda of one side has been won — or has at least moved sufficiently toward achieving victory — the winning side often feels comfortable making concessions about claims that they may have previously denied.

Initially, they will firmly state, “The claims of our opponents are overblown; the detrimental effect they predict will never happen.” Once they’ve won the public over to their side, though, they become comfortable enough to admit the truth: “Well, maybe our critics were about the detrimental effect. But so what?”

This is where we are in the debate over a $15 minimum wage. For years, critics of wage floors have complained that raising the minimum wage to that level would increase unemployment. And for years supporters of the minimum wage claimed that wouldn’t happen. However, now that the $15 wage has been approved in two of the largest states in the union — California and New York — the advocates are willing to admit, “Yeah, it will lead to increased unemployment. But so what?”

If you think I’m exaggerating, consider a recent headline at the Washington Post: “The $15 minimum wage sweeping the nation might kill jobs — and that’s okay

In the article Lydia DePillis notes the very shift in response I outlined. Step #1: Critics complain about the detrimental impact, and are assured it will not happen:

minimum-wage-15Since 1938, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced the first federal minimum wage in the U.S., a debate has raged about whether wage floors help or hurt workers. But thanks to a radical economic experiment in California, we may be only a few years away from having a definitive answer.

California Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators have reached an agreement to raise California’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. Under California’s plan, its minimum wage — already one of the highest in the nation at $10 an hour — would rise to $10.50 in 2017, $11 in 2018 and a dollar each year through 2022.

By 2022 we should know for sure how the change will affect California. In the meantime, here are ten things you should know about the ongoing minimum wage debate:


10200456-largeIf you ask most people why they support raising the minimum wage they’ll says it’s because it helps the poor. But as David Neumark, a scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco notes, numerous studies have shown that there is no statistically significant relationship between raising the minimum wage and reducing poverty.

That finding may appear to be counterintuitive. After all, if poor people have low wages then increasing their wages should help reduce their poverty. To some extent, this is true. However, what is overlooked is that minimum wages target individual workers with low wages, rather than families with low incomes. The reason that distinction is important is because most workers who earn the minimum wage are in higher-income families.

That becomes more obvious when you think about the composition of the American workforce. If you are from a middle-class family, your first job is likely to have paid minimum wage. The same goes for all your friends who are from families higher on the economic ladder. And it’s the same for young workers today. Go down to the mall and you’ll find that the young men and women working in Forever 21 and Abercrombie & Fitch are not from families that are in poverty. Increasing the minimum wage merely ensures that these young people who are (mostly) from wealthier families get a pay raise.

The relationship between being a low-wage worker and being in a low-income family is fairly weak, as Neumark explains, for three reasons:

1.21411In the latest addition to Mike Rowe’s growing catalog of pointed Facebook responses, the former Dirty Jobs host tackles a question on the minimum wage, answering a man named “Darrell Paul,” who asks:

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 and hour. A lot of people think it should be raised to $10.10. Seattle now pays $15 an hour, and the The Freedom Socialist Party is demanding a $20 living wage for every working person. What do you think about the minimum wage? How much do you think a Big Mac will cost if McDonald’s had to pay all their employees $20 an hour?

Rowe begins by recounting a job he had working at a movie theater for $2.90 per hour (the minimum wage in 1979). He served his customers, learned a host of new skills, and received several promotions in due course. Eventually, he decided to move on, pursuing areas closer to his vocational aspirations.

He worked. He learned. He launched.

Turning back to the present (and future), Rowe is concerned about the ways various labor policies have prodded many business owners to innovate ever-closer to full-blown automation, leading to ever-fewer opportunities for unskilled workers. “My job as an usher [at the theater] was the first rung on a long ladder of work that lead me to where I am today,” Rowe writes. “But what if that rung wasn’t there?” (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, December 11, 2014

Summer-JobsGiving disadvantaged youth a summer job reduces violent crime, according to a new study published to the journal Science.

In a randomized controlled trial among 1,634 high school youth in Chicago, assignment to a summer jobs program decreases violence by 43 percent over 16 months (3.95 fewer violent-crime arrests per 100 youth). The decline occurs largely after the 8-week intervention ends.

gaplogoThe furniture store Ikea has announced they will begin to base their minimum pay on what’s considered to be a “living wage” in each local area, rather than on what competitors are paying. Similarly, the clothing retailer Gap says it will set $9 as the minimum hourly rate for its United States work force this year and then establish a minimum of $10 next year.

This makes good business sense — but will lead to a lot of bad economic reasoning.

A prime example is the latest column by Slate’s business and economic writer, Jordan Weissmann:

Notably, Ikea isn’t raising prices on its furniture to pay for the raise. Instead, the company’s management says it believes the pay hike will help them compete for and keep talent, which is of course good for business. The Gap used a similar justification when it announced it would raise its own minimum to $10 by 2015.

Which I think hints at something about what would likely happen if the U.S. raised the federal minimum. Conservatives who argue that higher pay floors kill jobs tend to assume that businesses are already running at pretty much peak efficiency, and so forcing them to spend more on labor will lead to less hiring. But left-leaning economists see it differently. They tend to argue that increasing wages can lead to savings for business by reducing worker turnover, for instance, and forcing managers to make better use of their staff.

Both the conservatives and the left-leaning economists are largely correct. Higher pay floors do tend to kill jobs and increasing wages can lead to savings for business by reducing worker turnover. But where Weissmann and other liberals go wrong is in assuming that businesses can still prevent worker turnover when the minimum wage is increased.

Terminator-2-Judgement-Day-posterI oppose implementing Skynet and increasing minimum wage laws for the same reason: to forestall the robots.

It’s probably inevitable that a T-1000 will return from the future to terminate John Connor. But there is still something we can do to prevent a TIOS from eliminating the cashier at your local McDonalds.

In Europe, McDonalds has ordered 7,000 TIOSs (Touch Interface Ordering Systems) to take food orders and payment. In America, Panera Bread will replace all of their cashiers with wage-free robots in all of their 1,800 nationwide locations by 2016. There is even a burger-making robot that can churn out 360 gourmet hamburgers per hour.

I, for one, welcome our new fast-food robot overlords. I’m just not ready for them yet.