Minimum Wage Increase
- Help or Hype?
by Kimani Jefferson
Massachusetts senator John
Kerry, like other liberal politicians, is once again calling
for an increase in the minimum wage. The Kerry plan calls for
a 36 percent increase to seven dollars an hour. He says it will
help those living in poverty.
Like all liberal ideas, it
sounds good at first. But what will the net effect be, specifically
on blacks? The old adage remains true: The devil is in the details.
According to a Employment Policies
Institute (EPI) study, increasing the minimum wage won't alleviate
poverty among the working poor. The majority of workers living
in poor families already earn more than Kerry's proposed increase.
Likewise, those earning minimum wage are more likely to live
in families with incomes three times the poverty line (teens
working their first jobs).
An increased minimum wage would
undoubtedly help some people. Eileen Appelbaum, a Rutgers University
labor economist, says raising the minimum wage by $1.85 would
translate into more than $3,800 a year in additional income for
a full-time minimum-wage employee. But raising the minimum wage
would also affect the size and earning potential of the workforce.
One thing must be remembered
about business: Profit is something employers don't forget about.
History has proven employers won't stand idle, and increasing
employee costs means staffing cutbacks and reduced hours.
Bruce Bartlett of the National
Center for Policy Analysis points out that there are more negative
consequences of a wage hike. Based on demographic studies of
* A ten percent raise in the
minimum wage will reduce overall youth employment by 2.1 percent.
* For low-income workers earning
minimum wage or slightly better, a ten percent minimum wage hike
will result in a ten percent job loss.
* Eighty percent of the net
benefits will go to families who are not poor.
* Teenagers will be encouraged
to drop out of school, reducing their overall capacity to rise
above low-skill level jobs.
According to EPI's research,
the effect on the black community would be particularly acute.
For younger blacks, "A ten percent increase in the minimum
wage causes an 8.5 percent decline in the employment of African-Americans
It's a misperception that the
working poor are poor because of a low minimum wage. In fact,
the EPI study notes, "70.7 percent of workers living in
poor families [already] earn wage rates greater than $7.00 per
hour." Real reasons for such poverty include the fact that
many of the affected work less than full-time and family sizes
are too large for such low hourly wages.
In the end, over 60 percent
of the benefits of a minimum wage increase would go to families
with incomes twice the poverty line or more. So, what's the answer?
The Earned Income Tax Credit
(EITC) is a far better policy tool for aiding low wage workers
in poor families. According to EPI: "For every dollar in
wages earned by a low-income family with two children, the federal
government provides a tax credit of 40 cents. Workers with one
child have an effective minimum wage of $6.90 per hour (the $5.15
per hour minimum wage plus an additional 34 percent credit of
$1.75) and workers with two or more children have an effective
minimum wage of $7.21 per hour (the $5.15 minimum wage plus an
additional 40 percent credit of $2.06)."
Employers don't directly pay
for the EITC, so it causes no reduction in demand for low-skill
workers. Also, the EITC would also help those in low-income families
who are already making more than the minimum wage.
It's the difference between
sounding good and being effective. Liberals should have learned
from the well-intentioned but failed programs of the '60s that
intention doesn't guarantee outcome.
It would be great to just look
at numbers as they are, form ideas and merely extrapolate conclusions.
Liberal conclusions regarding who would benefit from a wage hike
does precisely this. It's a clumsy and dangerous proposition,
however, for the working poor.
Protecting workers from poverty
is a great idea. Expanding the EITC is the best way to aid them
without hurting small business (which hurts the working poor).
Some are convinced that the wage hike will work.
Well, to use Mark Twain's words, "The trouble with the world
is not that people know too little, but that they know so many
things that ain't so."
Kimani Jefferson is a member
of the Project 21 National Advisory Council. Comments may be
sent to Jefferson@willingtofight.com.
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research.
Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries
reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those
of Project 21.
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