Another Go at Raising the Minimum Wage?
Mayor Slay of Saint Louis announced that his administration will back a proposal to increase the city’s minimum wage. The proposal is to immediately raise the city’s minimum wage to $10 an hour, a 31 percent increase over the current state minimum of $7.65. Then the wage would be increased by annual increments of $1.25 until it reaches $15 in 2020.
Scholars and analysts at the Show-Me Institute have written extensively on this topic, arguing that raising the minimum wage is not good policy. That is still the case, since the fundamentals of economic theory have not changed.
Instead of reading another installment from me, I’ll defer to Christina Romer, former chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. Here is what she wrote in the New York Times about her former boss’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage back in early 2013.
There is a belief that the lack of competition fosters a lower wage. Romer writes, “I suspect that few people, including economists, find this argument compelling today. Company towns are a thing of the past.” In the end, “Robust competition is a powerful force to ensure that workers are paid what they contribute to their employer’s bottom line.”
Some see using the minimum wage as an anti-poverty tool. “Most arguments for instituting or raising a minimum wage are based on fairness and redistribution,” she notes. But contrary to this view she rightly observes that “It’s precisely because the redistributive effects of a minimum wage are complicated that most economists prefer other ways to help low-income families.” Instead, like anyone else committed to really helping the poor, Romer advocates using the existing tax system. The earned-income tax credit “is very well targeted—the subsidy goes only to poor families—and could easily be made more generous.”
“So where does all this leave us?” she asks. Her reply is that “the economics of the minimum wage are complicated and it is far from obvious what an increase would accomplish.”
What Romer believed in 2013 is still true today, and it applies whether one is talking about federal or city minimum wages. Imposing minimum wages is just bad economics and misguided policy that does not help the most needy.