Posts tagged with: Socioeconomics

techrevolutionAcross the globe, extreme poverty has been reduced by the advent and ubiquity of a simple tool: cell phones. As USAID says, mobile phones “fundamentally transform the way people in the developing world interact with one another and their governments, and access basic health, education, business and financial services.”

Could the same technology that is alleviating extreme poverty around the world also be used to help solve America’s homeless problem?

In an intriguing paper by the America Enterprise Institute, Kevin C. Corinth proposes giving the homeless smartphones as part of a “tech revolution for the homeless.” “I propose equipping homeless individuals with free smartphones and service plans in exchange for providing daily information on themselves through a specialized app—including their sleeping locations, use of services, and personal outcomes,” says Corinth. “The possibilities could transform how we understand and confront homelessness.”

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:


Why do some countries grow richer faster than others? How can we explain wealth disparities between countries? The answer: Growth rates.

Economist Alex Tabarrok explains how even small changes to growth rates can have a big effect on the economy of a country—and on the flourishing of its citizens.

government_is_the_problem_poster-r60410fd507e74984b86adfb78cccb9fd_a3l0_8byvr_324What is the worst problem facing America? According to a recent Gallup poll, most Americans agree with former President Reagan, who said government is not a the solution, government is the problem.

An average of 16 percent of Americans in 2015 mentioned some aspect of government—including President Obama, Congress, or political conflict—as the country’s chief problem. The economy came in second with 13 percent mentioning it, while unemployment and immigration tied for third at 8 percent.

While government takes the top slot, that’s still an answer given by fewer than one in five citizens. We can’t even seem to come to a consensus about our biggest problems. Indeed, 2015 is only the second time since 2001 (2014 was the other year) that no single issue averaged 20 percent or more for the year. Rather than being focused on a single issue, there is a broad range of concerns troubling us; more than a dozen issues received 2-6 percent of the vote for worst problem.

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:

the-new-york-times-website-is-back-after-two-hour-outageWhile it may be difficult to imagine, there was once an era when the New York Times was concerned about the poor.

Consider, for example, a 1987 editorial they ran with the headline, “The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00.” As the editors noted at the time,

[Raising the minimum wage] would increase unemployment: Raise the legal minimum price of labor above the productivity of the least skilled workers and fewer will be hired.

If a higher minimum means fewer jobs, why does it remain on the agenda of some liberals? A higher minimum would undoubtedly raise the living standard of the majority of low-wage workers who could keep their jobs. That gain, it is argued, would justify the sacrifice of the minority who became unemployable. The argument isn’t convincing. Those at greatest risk from a higher minimum would be young, poor workers, who already face formidable barriers to getting and keeping jobs. Indeed, President Reagan has proposed a lower minimum wage just to improve their chances of finding work.

Back then the federal minimum wage was $3.35 ($7 in 2015 dollars) and the editors of the Times had a basic understanding of economics. Today, their editorial board is apparently comprised solely of those completely ignorant about economics, for they published an editorial last week calling for wage to be raised to $15 a hour.

Their reasoning? No real justification is given other than that the government must do something. In their conclusion they write: