Should the Minimum Wage Be Raised?

In today’s New York Times, the economist Arindrajit Dube has an Op Ed column in the Great Divide series, “The Minimum We Can Do”, pointing out that today’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is only 37% of today’s median hourly wage of about $20 per hour.  This compares with the 1968 minimum wage of $10.60 per hour (in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation) which was 55% of the median wage at that time.  This is in line with the current Democratic proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
The standard argument against raising the minimum wage is that it will reduce employment because “when labor is made more costly, employers will hire less of it.”  However Mr. Dube offers empirical data which “suggest that a hypothetical 10% increase in the minimum wage affects employment in the restaurant or retail industries by much less than 1 percent” and therefore very little.
Basically Mr. Dube is arguing that raising the minimum wage won’t hurt the economy and it will help many low-paid workers.  The problem with this point of view is that it distracts attention from what we really should be doing: namely, everything we possibly can to speed up economic growth.  By far the best way to raise wages is to increase the value of labor by creating more jobs!
I may sound like a broken record, repeating the same thing over and over again, but we badly need to concentrate on the fundamentals of growing the economy: lowering tax rates, individual and corporate, to stimulate business investment and risk taking by entrepreneurs; removing onerous regulatory burdens, especially on new businesses and existing small businesses; and emphasizing career education and job training to fill the millions of high skill job openings which exist.
There are strong headwinds facing our economy: bad demographics (rapidly retiring baby boomers), pressure from technological progress and globalization which put a high premium on education and advanced skills, and massive national debt which will become a huge burden as interest rates inevitably increase.
These strong headwinds aren’t going away.  To overcome them we need national leaders who are able to rise above ideology and focus on the fundamentals.
Conclusion: we should raise the minimum wage when unemployment drops to 6% or, perhaps, tie a raise in the minimum wage to a tax reform measure which significantly lowers tax rates.

2 thoughts on “Should the Minimum Wage Be Raised?

  1. Keep in mind that when I propose lowering tax rates, I always mean in a revenue neutral way by closing loopholes and limiting, if not ending, most deductions. This is what was done in 1986 and it gave a big boost to the economy. Many of these deductions and loopholes then slowly crept back in to the tax code. The Bush tax cuts of 2003 should have pared them back again but, unfortunately, did not do this.

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