If 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: