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.

Labor’s Share of National Income Is Falling

The latest issue of the Economist shows quite dramatically in the article “Labour Pains” that labor’s share of national income is dropping.  In the U.S. workers’ wages have historically been about 70% of GDP.  In the early 1980s this figure started falling and is now 64%.  Similar declines are occurring in many other countries.
This phenomenon is closely related to what others are observing as I have reported recently.  Tyler Cowen’s new book “Average is Over” discusses the threat of technology to the middle class.  Daniel Alpert in “The Age of Oversupply” talks about the increase of competition from various global forces.  Stephen King’s “When the Money Runs Out” makes the case that “a half-century of one-off developments in the industrialized world will not be repeated.”
Historically the stability of the wage to GDP ratio “provides the link between productivity and prosperity.  If workers always get the same slice of the economic pie, then an improvement in their average productivity – which boosts growth – should translate into higher average earnings. … A falling labour share implies that productivity gains no longer translate into broad rises in pay.  Instead, an ever larger share of the benefits of growth accrues to the owners of capital.”
A shrinking share of a GDP which itself is slowing down is a double whammy.  The only way to address the problem effectively is to deal with the root causes.
First of all, we need to boost overall economic growth by the proven methods of broad based tax reform, especially including much lower corporate tax rates, making regulations less onerous, carrying out immigration reform, and giving special attention to helping entrepreneurs create new businesses.
How can we, additionally, help low skilled and low waged workers move up the ladder?  Long term the most worthwhile action is to change K-12 education by putting more emphasis on career education to produce more highly skilled workers.  Short term, we should provide crash job training for the estimated three million current job openings in the U.S. which require skilled workers.
Economic inequality in the U.S. is becoming progressively worse all the time.  There are fiscally sound ways to address this alarming problem and it is important that they be clearly and forcefully advocated.