50 Years of Research on the Minimum Wage

Joint Economic Committee Republicans
February 15, 1995

Introduction

For many years it has been a matter of conventional wisdom among economists that the minimum wage causes fewer jobs to exist than would be the case without it. This is simply a matter of price theory, taught in every economics textbook, requiring no elaborate analysis to justify. Were this not the case, there would be no logical reason why the minimum wage could not be set at $10, $100, or $1 million per hour.

Historically, defenders of the minimum wage have not disputed the disemployment effects of the minimum wage, but argued that on balance the working poor were better off. In other words, the higher incomes of those with jobs offset the lower incomes of those without jobs, as a result of the minimum wage [See, for example, Levitan and Belous, (1979)].

Now, the Clinton Administration is advancing the novel economic theory that modest increases in the minimum wage will have no impact whatsoever on employment. This proposition is based entirely on the work of three economists: David Card and Alan Krueger of Princeton, and Lawrence Katz of Harvard. Their studies of increases in the minimum wage in California, Texas and New Jersey apparently found no loss of jobs among fast food restaurants that were surveyed before and after the increase [See Card (1992b), Card and Krueger (1994), and Katz and Krueger (1992)].

While it is not yet clear why Card, Katz and Krueger got the results that they did, it is clear that their findings are directly contrary to virtually every empirical study ever done on the minimum wage. These studies were exhaustively surveyed by the Minimum Wage Study Commission, which concluded that a 10% increase in the minimum wage reduced teenage employment by 1% to 3%.

The following survey of the academic research on the minimum wage is designed to give nonspecialists a sense of just how isolated the Card, Krueger and Katz studies are. It will also indicate that the minimum wage has wide-ranging negative effects that go beyond unemployment. For example, higher minimum wages encourage employers to cut back on training, thus depriving low wage workers of an important means of long-term advancement, in return for a small increase in current income. For many workers this is a very bad trade-off, but one for which the law provides no alternative.

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