Michael Rathbone
To a lot of people, increasing the minimum wage makes sense. Honestly, who doesn't want low-income workers to make more money? Yet, if you actually take a look at minimum wage laws, you'll notice that they don't really help people as much as advertised. In fact, these laws actually can hurt the people they are meant to help. A new study (H/T The Corner) by Jeffrey Clemens and Michael Wither further reinforces these points.

In their study, Clemens and Wither examined the impact of the federal minimum wage increases during the Great Recession (2007-2009). They found that not only would low-skilled workers be less likely to have jobs after the minimum wage hikes went into effect (a finding also supported by the CBO), but the hikes also would lead to an overall decline in these workers' incomes even after accounting for the increased wages of those workers still employed.

This leads to another problem with increasing the minimum wage: decreased economic mobility. The study's authors found that increasing the minimum wage reduced the chances of low-skilled workers eventually reaching salaries of $1,500 a month (they determined that $1,500 a month was the threshold for lower-middle-class salaries). Clemens and Wither believe that this reduction in mobility occurs because an increased minimum wage results in fewer jobs being available for poorer workers. According to the authors, this lack of job opportunities means that there are fewer chances for these people to accumulate the skills and experience necessary in order to earn higher wages in the future. This is conjecture on the authors' part, but it makes sense if one thinks about it.

At a cursory glance, the minimum wage is a good thing. Unfortunately, there are two sides to the minimum wage, and when you take the other side into account you see that it hurts more than it helps. This study's review of the academic literature finds that increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would be a better alternative for low-income families than raising the minimum wage, something that we have been saying for a while now.


About the Author

Michael Rathbone
Policy Researcher
Michael Rathbone was a policy researcher at the Show-Me Institute. He is a native of Saint Louis and a 2008 graduate of Saint Louis University, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in biomedical engineering.