Barron’s ‘Economic Beat’ columnist tackles minimum wage myths

Gene Epstein of Barron’s devotes his latest column to explaining why the government-mandated minimum wage fails to live up to its promise of helping the poor.

The debate over raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from the current $7.25 heated up last week with the publication of a Congressional Budget Office study, which estimated that total employment would likely be reduced by “500,000 workers” if the hike were implemented.

While the CBO’s scenario made sense, a truly substantive debate about the minimum wage would start with the merits of abolishing it altogether, while seeking to help poor people through more direct means. Instead of decreeing that the unskilled can’t accept certain low-wage offers, thereby condemning many to joblessness, allow them to consider all of the potential options. But to the extent that low-paid workers are part of poor families—and many are not—help them in other ways.

Ironically, Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, an advocate of hiking the minimum wage and critic of the CBO report, sensibly opined in his textbook Economics that “the minimum wage is not a good way of trying to deal with problems of poverty.” His point: Since many minimum-wage workers aren’t poor, this is yet another case of the government trying to solve a problem with a blunt instrument. The same CBO study he criticized bears him out, estimating minimum-wage workers’ median family incomes at $30,000, which shows that most live in families well above the poverty line, given that many have multiple workers.

BECAUSE ON-THE-JOB TRAINING is the most effective kind, the best way for people to better themselves materially is through working. A National Bureau of Economic Research study, “Minimum Wage Effects in the Longer Run,” concluded that the “longer-run effects” of “diminished training and skill acquisition” are “likely more significant” than the harm done by the minimum wage in the short run through reduced employment.

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