Williams probes the economics of a minimum wage increase

If you think President Obama’s proposal for an increase in the federal minimum wage makes sense, perhaps Walter Williams‘ latest column will help change your mind.

Dr. Alan Krueger, an economist, is chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers. I wonder whether he advised the president that though people surely would be responsive to 25 percent increases in the prices of other goods and services, they would not be responsive to a 25 percent wage increase. I’d bet the rent money that you couldn’t get Krueger to answer the following statement by saying either true or false: A 25 percent increase in the price of labor would not affect employment. If anything, his evasive response would be that found in a White House memo, reported in The Wall Street Journal’s article titled “The Minority Youth Unemployment Act” (Feb. 15), namely that “a range of economic studies show that modestly raising the minimum wage increases earnings and reduces poverty without measurably reducing employment.” The WSJ article questions that statement: “Note the shifty adverbs, ‘modestly’ and ‘measurably,’ which can paper over a lot of economic damage.” My interpretation of the phrase “without measurably reducing employment” is that only youngsters, mostly black youngsters, would be affected by an increase.

University of California, Irvine economist David Neumark has examined more than 100 major academic studies on the minimum wage. He states that the White House claim “grossly misstates the weight of the evidence.” About 85 percent of the studies “find a negative employment effect on low-skilled workers.” A 1976 American Economic Association survey found that 90 percent of its members agreed that increasing the minimum wage raises unemployment among young and unskilled workers. A 1990 survey found that 80 percent of economists agreed with the statement that increases in the minimum wage cause unemployment among the youth and low-skilled. If you’re looking for a consensus in most fields of study, examine the introductory and intermediate college textbooks in the field. Economics textbooks that mention the minimum wage say that it increases unemployment for the least skilled worker.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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