Federal Minimum Wage Disinformation

January 26, 2007 at 11:16 am | Posted in Hold that line!, Laying it the line ;-), One-liner | Leave a comment

From the Wall Street Journal via Say Anything:

The strong bipartisan support for increasing the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour from the current $5.15—a 40% increase—is a sad example of how interest-group politics and the public’s ignorance of economics can combine to give us laws that manage to be both inefficient and inegalitarian.

An increase in the minimum wage raises the costs of fast foods and other goods produced with large inputs of unskilled labor. Producers adjust both by substituting capital inputs and/or high-skilled labor for minimum-wage workers and, because the substitutes are more costly (otherwise the substitutions would have been made already), by raising prices. The higher prices reduce the producers’ output and thus their demand for labor. The adjustments to the hike in the minimum wage are inefficient because they are motivated not by a higher real cost of low-skilled labor but by a government-mandated increase in the price of that labor. That increase has the same misallocative effect as monopoly pricing.

Although some workers benefit—those who were paid the old minimum wage but are worth the new, higher one to the employers—others are pushed into unemployment, the underground economy or crime. The losers are therefore likely to lose more than the gainers gain; they are also likely to be poorer people. And poor families are disproportionately hurt by the rise in the price of fast foods and other goods produced with low-skilled labor because these families spend a relatively large fraction of their incomes on such goods. And many, maybe most, of the gainers from a higher minimum wage are not poor. Most minimum-wage workers are part time, and for the majority their minimum-wage income supplements an income derived from other sources. Examples are retirees living on Social Security or private pensions who want to get out of the house part of the day and earn pin money, stay-at-home spouses who want to supplement their spouse’s earnings, and teenagers working after school. An increase in the minimum wage will thus provide a windfall to many workers who are not poor. . . .

Let’s hope that if Congress passes a stiff increase in the federal minimum wage, George Bush will emulate Mayor Richard Daley and veto it. Several months ago the Chicago City Council, by a lopsided but not veto-proof vote, passed an ordinance requiring companies that have more than $1 billion in annual sales, and own stores in Chicago having at least 90,000 square feet of floor space, to pay Chicago employees a minimum wage of $9.25 an hour plus $1.50 an hour in fringe benefits, respectively rising to $10 and $3 by 2010. About 40 stores would have been affected.

The ordinance was surpassingly foolish. The retailers that would have been most affected, such as Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot, are at best only marginally interested in placing stores in large cities because space for large stores and for the parking they require is much more expensive than in suburbs and smaller towns. Moreover, these companies could offset much of the effect of the ordinance by opening more stores in suburbs within easy reach of Chicago, or by holding their floor space to just below 90,000 square feet. Fewer jobs would be available to low-skilled workers in the city, and families with modest incomes who seek low prices rather than elaborate service would be hurt more than the affluent by the increase in prices and reduced availability of big box outlets.

Who would favor such a bad ordinance? Conventional supermarket chains and clothing stores, of course, and unions—the latter not only for the usual reasons but also because big box companies oppose unions; the ordinance sent a signal that unions have enough political clout to make life difficult for large nonunion retailers. The absence of opposition to the ordinance from low-income consumers is not surprising because they are not organized to exert political pressure. The aggressive support of the ordinance by most of the council’s black members is more difficult to understand, but the explanation may be that they are allied with unions. They may have realized that their constituents would be harmed by the ordinance, but believed that in return for taking this hit they would get the support of unions for measures that would help low-income families.

Read the whole thing.

My take on it is:
The minimum wage is for setting a “Federal Minimum” that can be used in salary negociations between labor and management. Some multiple such as twice the fed wage for beginners in a given industry. Etc. etc. States set their own minimum wages which each state follows.

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