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“Restaurant Recession” Hits NYC Following $15 Minimum Wage

This will be a rough year for full-service NYC restaurants as they try to navigate a future with significant economic headwinds and significantly higher labor costs from the city’s $15 an hour minimum wage.

An article in the New York Eater (“Restaurateurs Are Scrambling to Cut Service and Raise Prices After Minimum Wage Hike“) highlights some of the suffering New York City’s full-service restaurants are experiencing following the December 31, 2018 hike in the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, which is 15.4% higher than the $13 minimum wage a year earlier and 36.4% higher than the $11 an hour two years ago. For example, Rosa Mexicana operates four restaurants in Manhattan and estimates the $15 mandated wage will increase their labor costs by $600,000 this year. Here’s a slice:

Now, across the city, restaurant owners and operators are reworking their budgets and operations to come up with those extra funds. Some restaurants, like Rosa Mexicano, are changing scheduling. Other restaurateurs are cutting hours and staffers, raising menu prices, and otherwise nixing costs wherever they can.

And though the new regulations are intended to benefit employees, some restaurateurs and staffers say that take home pay ends up being less due to fewer hours — or that employees face more work because there are fewer staffers per shift. “The bottom line is, we have to reduce the number of hours we spend,” says Chris Westcott, Rosa Mexicano’s president and CEO. “And unfortunately that means that, in many cases, employees are earning less even though they’re making more.”

In a survey conducted by New York City Hospitality Alliance late last year, about 75% of the more than 300 respondents operating full-service restaurants reported they’ll reduce employee hours this year because of the new wage increases, while 47% said they’ll eliminate jobs in 2019.

Note also that the survey also reported that “76.50% of respondents report reducing employee hours and 36.30% eliminated jobs in 2018 in response to mandated wage increases.” Those staff reductions are showing up in the NYC full-service restaurant employee series from the BLS, see chart above. December 2018 restaurant jobs were down by almost 3,000 (and by 1.64%) from the previous December, and the 2.5% annual decline in March 2018 was the worst annual decline since the sharp collapse in restaurant jobs following 9/11 in 2001.

As the chart shows, it usually takes an economic recession to cause year-over-year job losses at NYC’s full-service restaurants, so it’s likely that this is a “restaurant recession” tied to the annual series of minimum wage hikes that brought the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour at the end of last year. And the NYC restaurant recession is happening even as the national economy hums along in the 117th month of the second-longest economic expansion in history and just short of the 120-month record expansion from March 1991 to March 2001.

Here’s more of the article:

“There’s a lot of concern and anxiety happening within the city’s restaurant industry,” says Andrew Rigie, executive director of the restaurant advocacy group. Most restaurant owners want to pay employees more, he says, but are challenged by “the financial realities of running a restaurant in New York City.” Merelyn Bucio, a server at a restaurant in Soho that she declined to name, says her hours were cut and her workload increased when wage rates rose. Server assistants and bussers now work fewer shifts, so she and other servers take on side work like polishing silverware and glasses. “We have large sections, and there are large groups, so it’s more difficult,” she says. “You need your server assistant in order to give guests a better experience.”

At Lalito, a small restaurant in Chinatown, they used to roster two servers on the floor, but post wage increases, there’s only one, who is armed with a handheld POS (point of sale) system, according to co-owner Mateusz Lilpop. Having fewer people working was the only way for him to reduce costs, he says. Since the hike, labor costs at Lalito have risen about 10 percent — from 30 to 35 percent to 40 to 45 percent of sales, he says.

These changes get passed onto the diner, some restaurateurs argue. Service can suffer due to fewer people on the floor, or more and more restaurateurs will explore the fast-casual format over full-service ones. Some restaurants are also raising prices for customers. According to the NYC Hospitality Alliance’s survey, close to 90 percent of respondents expect to raise menu prices this year. Lalito’s menu prices have increased by 10 to 15 percent. Lilpop says, and it’s not just the cost of paying his staff driving prices up — it’s a ripple effect from New York-based food purveyors’ own labor cost increases.

“If you have a farmer that has employees that are picking fruit, he has to increase his labor costs, which means he has to increase his fruit prices,” Lilpop says. “I have to buy that fruit from him at a higher rate, and it goes down the chain.”

A few economic lessons here.

  1. A reduction in restaurant staffing that results in a decline in customer service (e.g., longer wait times, less attentive wait staff, etc.) is equivalent to a price increase for customers.
  2. The increases in the city minimum wage to $15 an hour, in addition to directly increasing labor costs for restaurants, also affects the labor costs of companies that supply food, liquor, restaurant supplies, menus, etc. and causes a ripple effect of indirect higher operational costs throughout the entire restaurant supply chain as described above.
  3. Even for workers who keep their jobs, a higher minimum wage per hour doesn’t necessarily translate into higher weekly earnings, if the reduction in hours is greater than the increase in hourly wages. For example, 40 hours per week at $13 an hour generates higher weekly pre-tax earnings ($520) than 33 hours per week at the higher $15 an hour ($495).

Prediction: This will be a rough year for full-service NYC restaurants as they try to navigate a future with significant economic headwinds and significantly higher labor costs from the city’s $15 an hour minimum wage.

This article was reprinted from the American Enterprise Institute.

COLUMN BY

Mark J. Perry

Mark J. Perry

Mark J. Perry is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus.

EDITORS NOTE: This FEE column with images is republished with permission. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

The New York Times Explains Why the Minimum Wage Should Be $0.00

The minimum wage is the Jason Vorhees of economics. It just won’t die.

No matter how many jobs the minimum wage destroys, no matter how many times you debunk it, it always comes back to wreak more havoc.

We’ve covered the issues at length at FEE, and quite effectively, if I do say so myself. But I have to admit that one of the greatest takedowns of the minimum wage you’ll ever find comes from an unlikely place: The New York Times.

There are many reasons people and politicians find the minimum wage attractive, of course. But the Times, in an editorial entitled “The Right Minimum Wage: 0.00,” skillfully rebuts each of these reasons in turn.

Noting that the federal minimum wage has been frozen for some six years, the Times admits that it’s no wonder that organized labor is pressuring politicians to increase the federal minimum wage to raise the standard of living for poorer working Americans.

“No wonder. But still a mistake,” the Times explains. “There’s a virtual consensus among economists that the minimum wage is an idea whose time has passed.”

But why has the idea “passed”? Why would raising the minimum wage not help the working poor?

“Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount would price working poor people out of the job market,” the editors explain.

But wouldn’t the minimum wage increase the purchasing power of low-income Americans? Wouldn’t a meaningful increase allow a single breadwinner to support a family of three and actually be above the official U.S. poverty line?

Ideally, yes. But there are unseen problems, as the editors point out:

There are catches…[A higher minimum wage] would increase employers’ incentives to evade the law, expanding the underground economy. More important, it would increase unemployment: Raise the legal minimum price of labor above the productivity of the least skilled workers and fewer will be hired.

But if that’s true, why would progressives support such a law? What’s their rationale for supporting a minimum wage if it does more harm than good? Is it sheer political opportunism?

Not necessarily. The Times explains:

A higher minimum would undoubtedly raise the living standard of the majority of low-wage workers who could keep their jobs. That gain, it is argued, would justify the sacrifice of the minority who became unemployable.

There’s just one problem with this logic, the editors say:

The argument isn’t convincing. Those at greatest risk from a higher minimum would be young, poor workers, who already face formidable barriers to getting and keeping jobs. The idea of using a minimum wage to overcome poverty is old, honorable – and fundamentally flawed. It’s time to put this hoary debate behind us, and find a better way to improve the lives of people who work very hard for very little.

It’s a compelling, reasoned, and erudite argument. But it’s not exactly what one expects to see in The New York Times these days. (A naughty person might say the same about reason and erudition in general in the paper.)

So what gives? Alas, the editorial is a relic. It was written way, way back in 1987. A lot has changed since then.

We’ve had a couple wars. The internet was introduced to the masses. There was 9-11. We elected the nation’s first black president. The Cubs and Red Sox won the World Series. There was even a female reboot of Ghostbusters.

At least one thing, however, did not change. That would be the laws of economics. They hold as fast and true in 2018 as they did in 1987.

The Times’ editorial board might have changed. The perception of the minimum wage certainly changed. Relatively recent polls show seven out of ten Americans support raising the federal minimum wage. Several cities—Seattle, New York, and Minneapolis, among them—have passed laws that raised (or will soon raise) the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

So it’s safe to say the minimum wage laws have become more popular, no doubt in part from campaigns promoting them and an education system sympathetic to them. Still, economic laws do not change based on how popular humans find them. They remain true and constant whether they are popular or not.

In fact, some have observed that economic laws are inherently unpopular.

“In economics, the majority is always wrong,” John Kenneth Galbraith once allegedly quipped.

Now, there have been a lot of complaints directed at corporate media in recent years, but I believe in giving credit where credit is due. So let’s give the Times a hand.

The paper was right in 1987. And if politicians are genuinely interested in helping the poor, they’ll stick a stake in the heart of the minimum wage once and for all.

Jon Miltimore

Jon Miltimore

Jonathan Miltimore is the Managing Editor of FEE.org. Serving previously as Director of Digital Media at Intellectual Takeout, Jon was responsible for daily editorial content, web strategy, and social media operations. Before that, he was the Senior Editor of The History Channel Magazine, Managing Editor at Scout.com, and general assignment reporter for the Panama City News Herald. Jon also served as an intern in the speechwriting department under George W. Bush.

EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is provided by FEE and is republished with permission.

The Cruelty and Carnage of the Minimum Wage: The Case of Tad by Jeffrey Tucker

Not having a job means not participating in the fullness of life.

If your goal is to ruin the lives of young and marginalized population groups, raising the wage floor to $15 an hour is a good plan. Already, much of the current problem with youth unemployment is due to the high minimum wage increases we’ve seen over the last eight years.

After all, the original purpose of the minimum wage was to disemploy undesirables. Not having a job means not participating in the fullness of life. It’s a big deal.

A wage floor of any sort traps people in the economic basement. The higher the floor, the larger the basement. Today, millions are rattling around down there, unable to find their way out. Millions more will find themselves there once all this legislation goes through.

I feel a particular frustration with this issue, and it’s not only because of the economics texts I’ve read.

My first real job was working maintenance at a department store. I was 15 (yes, I lied about my age; you could get away with that back then). My job was to clean toilets, crush boxes, pick pins out of the dressing room closets, wax the floors in the china shop, vacuum the place, and shine the glass.

It was a great job. I mean, truly great. I loved it because it was a hugely important job. If I didn’t clean the bathrooms well and replenish the toilet paper and towels, customers the next day might be grossed out and never come back. I played a big role in ensuring the profitability of this store.

My Coworker Tad

I especially loved my co-worker. His name was Tad. The department store would close, leaving just the two of us to have so much fun doing all this wonderful work. We would sing together, thrill to the danger of the wax machine, gross out at the mucky bathrooms, and just have that wonderful feeling that comes with having a real work partner.

You see, Tad was not a normal kid. He had some physical deformities. His face was oddly shaped and had what looked like a large stain on half of it. He couldn’t move around that well, really. I had to help him and assign tasks carefully. He was also mentally retarded. He spoke in a muffled way, and you had to be very clear about instructions.

But I tell you what, when he was happy, it made me happy. To see that big smile come across his face when I would praise the way he shined up a counter just gave me a huge lift. Every day I would try to find ways for him to be both delighted and productive. We were a wonderful team. I wanted it to stay this way.

One day, a poster appeared in the workroom. It was from the Department of Labor. The minimum wage was going up by 40 cents. Tad pointed the sign out to me. He said, “Look, we are getting a raise!”

I was a bit suspicious. I was pretty sure that the boss was the one who set the wage, not some weird distant government thing. I didn’t quite believe it was true. Still, I was happy that he was happy.

The next day, I showed up at the usual time after school. I was getting the mop ready, running hot water in the pail and prepared to do my thing.

Tad wasn’t there. I asked the boss, “Where’s Tad today?”

Well, he explained that he had hired Tad only because he was a boy he knew from church. He needed work. He knew that he would require a lot of help, which was one reason he was excited that I was able to work with him. In the end, he said, this was charity, because he knew that I could do the job by myself. It worked for us to be together so long as he could afford it. But this new minimum wage changed things. The store’s profit margins were very thin, and the wage requirement applied to the whole staff. So he had to make a hard decision.

The long and short of it: Tad had to be let go.

The Death of Tad

I was devastated. I stared at the Department of Labor sign again. Cursed thing! That sign just ruined a kid’s life. It stopped a great act of charity. And look what it did to me. I now had to work alone.

I suddenly felt guilty about my own job. I kept mine at his expense. And why? It was pure accident of birth.

Management left, the lights dimmed, and I heard the familiar click of the doors leading outside. I would have to clean alone today. I did all the tasks I had to. But there was no more music, no more laughter, no more clowning around, and no more beautiful smiles. Tad was somewhere else, probably at home, confused and sad.

I didn’t call him. I was too embarrassed and I didn’t know what to say. So I let our friendship go.

He died a few years later.

This is what the minimum wage means to me. So you can say that I have a vendetta. When the president announces that he is raising wages to make everyone better off, I can’t help but think of the millions of Tads that will lose that opportunity to do wonderful things in this world and with their lives.

Jeffrey A. TuckerJeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Minimum Wage Should Be Called the Robot Employment Act – Wall Street Journal

Taxpayers Pay through the Nose for the Minimum Wage by Adam Millsap

A Billion Dollar Stool to Reach the Bottom Rung of the Job Ladder.

In February, the Obama administration proposed a “First Job” initiative. The main goal of the aptly titled initiative is to help unemployed young people obtain their first job by spending $5.5 billion on grants, training, and direct wages. Unfortunately – but unsurprisingly – the press release failed to acknowledge the most significant factor impeding employment in this age group: the minimum wage.

Everyone knows that a first job is a vital step in a young person’s development. Research has shown that work experience at a young age teaches positive work habits, time management, perseverance, and improves self-confidence. Increases in teenage employment also reduce the rate of violent crime. Yet despite these well-known benefits, the US maintains a minimum wage policy that makes it very difficult for all but the most productive teenagers to find a job.

When the minimum wage was discussed in the late 19th and early 20th century it was in the context of preventing the least skilled, most “undesirable” workers from finding a job, with the goal of eradicating the unemployable people. For the next 80-plus years it was common knowledge that a minimum wage would reduce employment among the least-skilled workers. The only debate was about whether such a reduction was desirable from society’s perspective, as many of the appalling eugenicists of the time contended.

As late as 1987, the New York Times editorial staff recommended a minimum wage of $0 because of its negative effects on employment. The Times argued that the minimum wage was an ineffective anti-poverty tool whose employment costs outweighed any benefits from higher wages.

Fast forward to the early 1990s, when an economic study purported to show that a slight increase in the minimum wage may not reduce employment after all. Despite the tenuous results of this study, it provided minimum wage supporters with the ammunition they needed to push for increases in the minimum wage at the federal, state, and local level without worrying about declines in employment. This misinformed thinking continues and is the basis for modern calls to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour or even $15 per hour, as some cities have already done.

Meanwhile, the labour force participation rate for 16-19 year olds has fallen from over 50% in the early 1990s to 35% in January 2016. Some of this is due to more young people engaging in extra-curricular activities and attending college, but if those were the only causes then the Obama administration would have little reason to be concerned about teenage employment.

Despite the decline of teenagers in the labour market and the numerous recent studies that show that the minimum wage has adverse effects on teenage employment, the minimum wage continues to be viewed by many as an effective anti-poverty tool with little to no adverse effects. It is this line of thinking that has encouraged the newest proposal calling for billions of taxpayer dollars to provide jobs; the labor market, not the government, is the problem and so the government should intervene.

An all too common occurrence in US policy is that government intervention causes a problem that the government then tries to solve with more intervention, completely ignoring the possibility that the initial intervention was the source of the problem. In this case, price controls at the bottom of the labor-market ladder have prevented young people from getting on the first rung, so now the government wants to roll over a $5.5 billion dollar taxpayer-funded stool to give them a boost.

Government programs rarely achieve their goal so there is good reason to be skeptical of this one, especially since it fails to address the root cause of the problem. A better, more effective solution for helping teenagers gain valuable job skills would be to set the minimum wage at the proper level of $0 and let the labour market work.

Cross-posted from Mercatus.org.

Adam Millsap

Adam Millsap is a PhD student in economics and a graduate instructor at Clemson University in South Carolina. His research interests are in urban economics and public choice theory. He is currently working in Washington, D.C. as an economic policy intern at the Reason Foundation.

California’s $15 Minimum Wage Is a Terrible, Unethical ‘Experiment’ by David R. Henderson

The law will have devastating consequences, particularly for immigrants, minorities, and the less educated.

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Charles Lane reports on the move, that’s almost a done deal, to raise California’s minimum wage in stages to a whopping $15 an hour by 2022. Lane, or his editors, wisely titled the article, “The risks of California’s minimum-wage increase.”

Lane writes:

By 2022, when fully phased in (small firms with fewer than 25 workers would have until 2023 to comply), the California minimum wage would represent 69 percent of the median hourly wage in the state, assuming 2.2 percent annual growth from the current median of roughly $19 per hour.

That 69 percent ratio would be all but unprecedented, in U.S. terms and internationally. The current California minimum wage represents about half the state’s median hourly wage, just as the federal minimum wage averaged 48 percent of the national median between 1960 and 1979, according to a 2014 Brookings Institution paper by economist Arindrajit Dube. (It is currently 38 percent of the national median.)

Other industrial democracies with statutory minimum wages typically set theirs at half the national median wage, too.

Even Dube recommends a minimum wage equal to half the median wage. One that’s 69 percent of the minimum wage is 38% higher than the level Dube recommends.

So Dube would oppose such an increase, right?

Wrong. Assuming that Lane reported Dube’s response accurately, he favors the increase. Why? Lane writes:

He [Dube] told me by email that California’s experiment is worth running and monitoring.

But these are humans being experimented on. Worth monitoring? Absolutely. Worth running? No damn way.

Economist Jonathan Meer, whose work Lane also cites, writes on Facebook (I am quoting with permission):

Playing with the March CPS [Current Population Survey], I find that a whopping 11% of young high school dropouts in California have a full time job. 85% of all high school dropouts in California are paid $15 an hour or less.

Among young (under 30) high school dropouts, that number is 96%.

Among *all* black and Hispanic respondents under 30 (irrespective of education), 90% are paid $15/hr or less.

This will not be good.

Cross-posted from Econlog.

David R. HendersonDavid R. Henderson

David Henderson is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution and an economics professor at the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California. He is editor of The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (Liberty Fund) and blogs at econlib.org.

Do European Labor Laws Lead to Terrorism? by Alex Tabarrok

Why are there poor Muslim ghettos in Europe but not in the United States?

In Belgium, high unemployment and crime-ridden Muslim ghettos have fomented radicalism, but as Jeff Jacoby writes:

Muslims in the United States … have had no problem acclimating to mainstream norms. In a detailed 2011 survey, the Pew Research Center found that Muslim Americans are “highly assimilated into American society and … largely content with their lives.”

More than 80 percent of US Muslims expressed satisfaction with life in America, and 63 percent said they felt no conflict “between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.”

The rates at which they participate in various everyday American activities — from following local sports teams to watching entertainment TV — are similar to those of the American public generally. Half of all Muslim immigrants display the US flag at home, in the office, or on their car.

Jacoby, however, doesn’t explain why these differences exist. One reason is the greater flexibility of American labor markets compared to those in Europe.

Institutions that make it more difficult to hire and fire workers or adjust wages can increase unemployment and reduce employment, especially among immigrant youth. Firms will be less willing to hire if it is very costly to fire. As Tyler and I put it in Modern Principles, how many people will want to go on a date if every date requires a marriage?

The hiring hurdle is especially burdensome for immigrants given the additional real or perceived uncertainty from hiring immigrants. One of the few ways that immigrants can compete in these situations is by offering to work for lower wages. But if that route is blocked by minimum wages, or requirements that every worker receive significant non-wage benefits, unemployment and non-employment among immigrants will be high — generating disaffection, especially among the young.

Huber, for example, (see also Angrist and Kuglerfinds:

Countries with more centralized wage bargaining, stricter product market regulation and countries with a higher union density, have worse labour market outcomes for their immigrants relative to natives even after controlling for compositional effects.

The problem of labor market rigidity is especially acute in Belgium, where the differences between native and immigrant unemployment, employment and wages are among the highest in the OECD. Language difficulties and skills are one reason, but labor market rigidity is another, as this OECD report makes clear:

Belgian labour market settings are generally unfavourable to the employment outcomes of low-skilled workers. Reduced employment rates stem from high labour costs, which deter demand for low-productivity workers…

Furthermore, labour market segmentation and rigidity weigh on the wages and progression prospects of outsiders. With immigrants over-represented among low-wage, vulnerable workers, labour market settings likely hurt the foreign-born disproportionately. …

Minimum wages can create a barrier to employment of low-skilled immigrants, especially for youth. As a proportion of the median wage, the Belgian statutory minimum wage is on the high side in international comparison and sectoral agreements generally provide for even higher minima. This helps to prevent in-work poverty … but risks pricing low-skilled workers out of the labour market (Neumark and Wascher, 2006).

Groups with further real or perceived productivity handicaps, such as youth or immigrants, will be among the most affected.

In 2012, the overall unemployment rate in Belgium was 7.6% (15-64 age group), rising to 19.8% for those in the labour force aged under 25, and, among these, reaching 29.3% and 27.9% for immigrants and their native-born offspring, respectively.

Immigration can benefit both immigrants and natives but achieving those benefits requires the appropriate institutions especially open and flexible labor markets.

This post first appeared at Marginal Revolution.

Alex TabarrokAlex Tabarrok

Alex Tabarrok is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen.

The $15 Minimum Wage and the End of Teen Work by Jack Salmon

A new report from JP Morgan Chase & Co. finds that the summer employment rate for teenagers is nearing a record low at 34 percent. The report surveyed 15 US cities and found that despite an increase in summer positions available over a two year period, only 38 percent of teens and young adults found summer jobs.

This would be worrying by itself given the importance of work experience in entry-level career development, but it is also part of a long-term trend. Since 1995 the rate of seasonal teenage employment has declined by over a third from around 55 percent to 34 percent in 2015. The report does not attempt to examine why summer youth employment has fallen over the past two decades. If it had, it would probably find one answer in the minimum wage.

Most of the 15 cities studied in this report have minimum wage rates above the federal level, with cities such as Seattle having a rate more than double that. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics seen in the chart show exactly how a drastic rise in the minimum wage rate affects the rate of employment.

Seattle has experienced the largest 3 month job loss in its history last year, following the introduction of a $15 minimum wage. We can only imagine the impact such a change has had on the prospects of employment for the young and unskilled.

Raising the minimum wage reduces the number of jobs in the long-run. It is difficult to measure this long-run effect in terms of the numbers of never materializing jobs. However, the key mechanism behind the model—that more labor-intensive establishments are replaced by more capital-intensive ones—is supported by evidence. That is why recent research suggesting that minimum wages barely reduce the number of jobs in the short-run, should be taken with caution. Several years down the line, a higher real minimum wage can lead to much larger employment losses.

Nevertheless, politicians continue to push the idea that minimum wage laws are somehow helping the young “earn a decent wage.” It is important to remember the underlying motives behind pushes for higher minimum wage rates. Milton Friedman characterized it as an “unholy coalition of do-gooders on the one hand and special interests on the other; special interests being the trade unions.”

Several empirical studies have been conducted over the course of more than two decades, with all evidence pointing toward negative effects of minimum wage rises on employment levels among the young and unskilled. A study conducted by David Neumark and William Wascher in 1995 noted that “such increases raise the probability that more-skilled teenagers leave school and displace lower-skilled workers from their jobs. These findings are consistent with the predictions of a competitive labor market model that recognizes skill differences among workers. In addition, we find that the displaced lower-skilled workers are more likely to end up non-enrolled and non-employed.”

Policy makers who continuously raise the minimum wage simply assure that those young people, whose skills are not sufficient to justify that kind of wage, will instead remain unemployed. In an interview, Friedman famously asked “What do you call a person whose labor is worth less than the minimum wage? Permanently unemployed.”

The upshot: Raising the minimum wage at both federal and local levels denies youth the skills and experience they need to get their career going.

This post first appeared at CEI.org.

Jack SalmonJack Salmon

Jack Salmon is a research associate at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Low-Skilled Workers Flee the Minimum Wage: How State Lawmakers Exile the Needy by Corey Iacono

What happens when, in a country where workers are free to move, a region raises its minimum wage? Do those with the fewest skills seek out the regions with the highest wage floors?

New minimum wage research by economist Joan Monras of the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) attempts to answer that question. Monras theoretically shows that there should be a close relationship between the employment effects of raising the minimum wage and the migration of low-skilled workers.

When the demand for local low-skilled labor is relatively unresponsive (or inelastic) to wage changes, raising the minimum wage should lead to an influx of low-skilled workers from other states in search of better-paying jobs. On the other hand, if the demand for low-skilled labor is relatively responsive (or elastic), raising the minimum wage will lead low-skilled workers to flee to states where they will more easily find employment.

To test the model empirically, Monras examined data from all the changes in effective state minimum wages over the period 1985 to 2012. Looking at time frames of three years before and after each minimum wage increase, Monras found that

  1. As depicted in the graph below on the left, those who kept their jobs earned more under the minimum wage. No surprise there.
  2. As depicted in the graph below on the right, workers with the fewest skills were having an easier time finding full-time employment prior to the minimum wage increase. But this trend completely reversed as soon as the minimum wage was increased.
  3. A control group of high-skilled workers didn’t experience either of these effects. Those affected by the changing laws were the least skilled and the most vulnerable.

These results show that the timing of minimum wage increases is not random.

Instead, policy makers tend to raise minimum wages when low-skilled workers’ real wages are declining and employment is rising. Many studies, misled by the assumption that the timing of minimum wage increases is not influenced by local labor demand, have interpreted the lack of falling low-skilled employment following a minimum wage increase as evidence that minimum wage increases have no effect on employment.

When Monras applied this same false assumption to his model, he got the same result. However, to observe the true effect of minimum wage increases on employment, he assumed a counterfactual scenario where, had the minimum wages not been raised, the trend in low-skilled employment growth would have continued as it was.

By making this comparison, Monras was able to estimate that wages increased considerably following a minimum wage hike, but employment also fell considerably. In fact, employment fell more than wages rose. For every 1 percent increase in wages, the share of a state’s population of low-skilled workers in full-time employment fell by 1.2 percent. (The same empirical approach showed that minimum wage increases had no effect on the wages or employment of a control group of high-skilled workers.)

Monras’s model predicts that if labor demand is sensitive to wage changes, low-skilled workers should leave states that increase their minimum wages — and that’s exactly what his empirical evidence shows.

According to Monras,

A 1 percent reduction in the share of employed low-skilled workers [following a minimum wage increase] reduces the share of low-skilled population by between .5 and .8 percent. It is worth emphasizing that this is a surprising and remarkable result: workers for whom the [minimum wage] policy was designed leave the states where the policy is implemented.

These new and important findings reinforce the view that minimum wage increases come at a cost to the employment rates of low-skilled workers.

They also pose a difficult question for minimum wage proponents: If minimum wage increases benefit low-skilled workers, why do these workers leave the states that raise their minimum wage?

Corey IaconoCorey Iacono

Corey Iacono is a student at the University of Rhode Island majoring in pharmaceutical science and minoring in economics.

The Minimum Wage Hurt the Young and Low-Skilled almost as Much as the Recession by Preston Cooper

Hiking the minimum wage killed almost as many low-end jobs as did the economic collapse.

This is University of California-San Diego Professor Jeffrey Clemens’ conclusion from his just published supplement to his landmark 2014 study. He says that federal minimum wage hikes from 2006 to 2009 accounted for 43 percent of the decline in employment among young, low-skilled workers during the Great Recession.

Young, low-skilled workers — defined as individuals between 16 and 30 without a high school degree — are the most likely to be hurt by minimum wage hikes because they are the least likely to have skills that employers consider valuable. Businesses might be willing to take on these individuals at low wages in order to train them before moving them up to higher-paying work. But when the government sets a high minimum wage, that first step on the career path might disappear.

Clemens’ new study confirms this longstanding theory. Young, low-skilled workers were hit hard by the minimum wage, while most other groups were relatively unaffected.

Several strengths set the Clemens study and its predecessor (coauthored by Michael Wither) apart from a large body of research on the minimum wage. Not least among them is its time frame. The paper covers a seven-year period from 2006 to 2012, unlike other studies such as the oft-cited 1994 paper by David Card and Alan Krueger. That paper, which found no negative effect of the minimum wage, only looked at a period of eleven months.

The time frame is critical because the damaging effects of minimum wage increases are often delayed. Immediately after a wage hike, businesses usually do not wish to significantly alter their business plans. Instead of laying off workers, they might raise prices or cut back on fringe benefits. But after one or two years, fewer businesses will open, existing businesses will close faster, and fewer jobs will be available.

Clemens’ study is unique in that it separates out workers by both age and skill level, to isolate where the worst effects of the minimum wage occur. The finding that young people without a high school degree are hurt the most does not bode well for minority communities: high school graduation rates are lower for black (68 percent) and Hispanic (76 percent) students than for white (85 percent) and Asian (93 percent) students. This may be one of the reasons that the white teen unemployment rate, at 14 percent, is so much lower than the black teen unemployment rate of 24 percent.

Rather than proposing blanket increases in the minimum wage to $10 or even $15 per hour, policymakers should look for ways to ensure that vulnerable individuals are spared. One solution is to allow anyone under 25 to work for a special sub-minimum wage, thus increasing their employment opportunities while still satisfying the political need to maintain higher standard minimum wages.

The new evidence presented in Clemens’ paper is an important reminder that well-intentioned policies such as the minimum wage have costs. The minimum wage tends to benefit older, established workers at the expense of the young and the unskilled. As we move into 2016, policymakers should resolve to find more innovative solutions to poverty than the minimum wage.

This post originally appeared at CapX.

Preston CooperPreston Cooper

Preston Cooper is a Policy Analyst at Economics21.

The Minimum Wage Fairy Tale by Donald J. Boudreaux

I spend a lot of time talking and writing about the minimum wage. I do so because it sears my economist’s soul to encounter a policy that is as popular with people as it is poorly understood by them.

Opinion polls consistently show that an overwhelming portion of Americans — about 75 percent — support raising the minimum wage. Yet there is no economic principle that is more solid than the one that explains that raising the cost of engaging in some activity (such as employing low-skilled workers) results in people engaging less in that activity.

Just as someone trying to sell a house knows that the higher the asking price, the fewer are the prospective buyers for the house, everyone should know that the higher the wage that a worker charges for his labor services, the fewer the prospective employers for that worker.

This fact holds when the government — through minimum-wage legislation — forces the worker to raise the wage he charges.

Although it’s obvious to me that artificially pushing wages up through minimum-wage legislation causes some low-skilled workers to lose their jobs (or to not be hired in the first place), it’s clearly not obvious to most of my fellow Americans. So I ask, “Why not?”

One reason, I believe, is that many of the same politicians and pundits who praise the minimum wage also loudly complain about the alleged greed and profiteering of business owners. An economically uninformed voter can therefore be forgiven for supposing that a hike in the minimum wage is fully paid for out of the “excess” profits of greedy businesses.

But, notes the economist, most minimum-wage jobs are in highly competitive industries such as food service and retailing. Being under intense competitive pressures, firms in these industries don’t rake in excess profits; they earn just enough to satisfy their investors.

If those profit rates fall even just a bit, investors scale back their support or even pull the plug. So, the typical employer of minimum-wage workers must find some way other than eating into profits to cover the added costs of a higher minimum wage.

One way is to reduce the number of low-skilled workers who are employed, combined with obliging those who remain employed at the higher minimum wage to work harder.

What about raising prices? Might that tactic raise enough revenue to fully cover the costs of a higher minimum wage?

Almost anything is possible, but higher prices charged by employers of minimum-wage workers are unlikely to result in all such workers getting a raise with none of them losing jobs. The reason is that when prices rise for restaurant meals, motel rooms and other goods and services supplied by employers of minimum-wage workers, consumers buy fewer of these goods and services.

The result? Restaurants, motels and similar employers supply fewer such goods and services — which means that these employers need fewer workers.

Tales can indeed be told about how, under just the right set of circumstances, a government policy of artificially raising firms’ costs of employing low-skilled workers will inflict no harm on such workers. But none of those tales is realistic.

This idea first appeared at the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review ©.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Donald J. Boudreaux

Donald Boudreaux is a professor of economics at George Mason University, a former FEE president, and the author of Hypocrites and Half-Wits.

A Higher Minimum Wage Will Make Us Meaner by Scott Sumner

In a recent post, I argued that government monopolies often offered worse service to customers than competitive private firms. In this post (which will have something to offend both progressives and conservatives), I’ll look at a different but related problem.

A few days ago there was a big debate about a New York Times expose on working conditions at Amazon.com. (By the way, it would have been useful for the NYT to compare labor practices at the Seattle company to working conditions at firms operating in the Amazon region of Brazil.)

Many liberals were appalled, while conservatives often wondered why, if working conditions were so bad at Amazon, people didn’t simply “get another job.” I have sympathy for both sides, but probably a bit more for the conservative side.

One liberal objection might be that it’s not easy to get another job. (And perhaps that’s because monetary policy since 2008 has been too contractionary. And perhaps that’s because conservatives have complained about the Fed’s QE/low interest rate policies, which has made the Fed reluctant to do more.)

Regardless of how you feel about monetary policy, it’s clear that if employers feel they have a “captive audience” of workers, who are terrified of losing their jobs, it would be easier for the employer to crack the whip and drive the employees to work extremely hard. One advantage of a healthy job market is that workers have more power to negotiate pleasant working conditions.

But progressives also have some major weaknesses in this area. They tend to favor policies such as New York City’s rent controls, and the new $15 minimum wage being gradually phased in in some western cities.

I like to think of these policies as engines of meanness. They are constructed in such a way that they almost guarantee that Americans will become less polite to each other.

In New York City, landlords with rent controlled units know that the rent is being artificially held far below market, and thus that they would have no trouble finding new tenants if the existing tenant is unhappy. So then have no incentive to upgrade the quality of the apartment, or to quickly fix problems. They do have an incentive to discriminate against minorities that, on average, are more likely to become unemployed, and hence unable to pay the rent. Or young people, who might damage the unit with wild parties.

Wage floors present the same sort of problem as rent ceilings, except that now it’s the demanders who become meaner, not the supplier. Firms that demand labor in Los Angeles in the year 2020 will be able to treat their employees very poorly, and still find lots of people willing to work for $15/hour.

Even worse, this regulation will interact with the migrant flow from Latin America, to produce another set of unanticipated side effects. In some developing countries there is a huge army of unemployed who go to the cities, hoping to get one of the few high wage jobs available in the “formal” sector of the economy. With a $15 minimum wage, migrants will come from Mexico until the disutility of waiting for a good job just balances the expected utility of landing one of those good jobs. You’ll have lots more angry, frustrated, young Mexican illegal immigrants with lots of time on their hands. What could go wrong?

One reason that I am what Miles Kimball calls a “supply-side liberal” is that I believe my preferred policy mix (NGDP targeting, plus free markets) is most likely to produce the sort of “nice” society I grew up with (in Madison, Wisconsin).

This post first appeared at Econlog. ©

Scott Sumner
Scott Sumner

Scott B. Sumner is the director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center and a professor at Bentley University. He blogs at the Money Illusion and Econlog.

How Minimum Wages Discourage Entrepreneurship by Donald J. Boudreaux

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, Brian Collins asks, “Do you truly believe that absent any increase in the minimum wage that Wendy’s or any other business will suspend efforts to develop and implement new forms of automation that promise to reduce staff levels?”

The answer is “no.” Contrary to Mr. Collins’s implication, however, this fact does nothing to excuse raising the minimum wage.

Even in a world in which market forces naturally promote automation, raising the minimum wage has two pernicious effects.

First, it causes the rate of automation to be faster than it would be if the minimum wage were not raised. That is, raising the minimum wage results in automation being introduced at a rate that is too fast given the size of the low-skilled labor force.

Second, raising the minimum wage destroys incentives for entrepreneurs and businesses to find ways to profitably employ workers whose limited skills prevent them from producing hourly outputs valued at least as high as the minimum wage.

The first effect throws some low-skilled workers out of jobs that they would otherwise retain, while the second effect ensures that no one has incentives to find ways to profitably employ these and other low-skilled workers.

If it is inhumane to outlaw the profitable employment of those workers whose skills are the least valuable, then the minimum wage is deeply inhumane.

If the government instituted a minimum wage of $100 per hour and, therefore, made unlawful the profitable employment of all those people whose skills are too meager to enable them to produce at least $100 worth of output per hour, there would be a national uproar — and rightly so.

Yet when the government implements such a policy but in a way that outlaws the profitable employment only of people whose skill-sets are among thelowest, relatively few people object and many people — especially “Progressives” — applaud the policy as humane.

How sad. And how especially sad that many economists today, who above all should know better, lend their authority to such an inhumane policy.

A version of this letter first appeared at Café Hayek.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Donald J. Boudreaux

Donald Boudreaux is a professor of economics at George Mason University, a former FEE president, and the author of Hypocrites and Half-Wits.

New York Orders Fast-Food Workers Replaced With Robots, Kiosks, Mobile Apps by Daniel Bier

Well, they didn’t quite put it that way — the New York Times‘ headline read “New York panel recommends $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers” — but it amounts to the same thing.

A panel appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recommended on Wednesday that the minimum wage be raised for employees of fast ­food chain restaurants throughout the state to $15 an hour over the next few years. Wages would be raised faster in New York City than in the rest of the state to account for the higher cost of living there.

The panel’s recommendations, which are expected to be put into effect by an order of the state’s acting commissioner of labor, represent a major triumph for the advocates who have rallied burger­ flippers and fry cooks to demand pay that covers their basic needs.

They argued that taxpayers were subsidizing the workforces of some multinational corporations, like McDonald’s, that were not paying enough to keep their workers from relying on food stamps and other welfare benefits.

The $15 wage would represent a raise of more than 70 percent for workers earning the state’s current minimum wage of $8.75 an hour. Advocates for low­ wage workers said they believed the mandate would quickly spur raises for employees in other industries across the state, and a jubilant Mr. Cuomo predicted that other states would follow his lead.

In other news, I ordered my lunch yesterday on my computer and picked it up from Panera Bread without ever talking to a person. Last night, I picked up a couple groceries and paid through the self-checkout lane. This morning, I ordered a latte on my Starbucks app, and it was waiting for me when I walked into the store. I’m thinking of going to a burger joint later, where I’ll tap out my order on a kiosk.

Of course, it’s not fair to blame the minimum wage exclusively for the increasingly widespread automation of service jobs. Ordering kiosks and mobile apps are becoming more popular as the technology becomes better, cheaper, and more popular. That will probably happen no matter what the price of labor is.

But the fact that the cost of not using technology — that is, an employee — is about to cost 70% more will give the entire New York fast-food industry a great big shove away from labor and towards machines. And since chain restaurants don’t just operate in New York, the investment in automation will spill into stores everywhere.

Who wins from this?

Unions and more experienced workers, at least in the short-run. Labor unions’ entire purpose is to push up wages for their members, which makes them more expensive and less attractive compared to non-union workers.

But if unions — like, say, the Service Employees International Union — can make all workers more expensive, it makes union labor look relatively better by comparison. They won’t have to compete against cheaper labor anymore (which is to say, less-skilled workers won’t be allowed to compete by underbidding them).

Why arbitrarily single out “fast food” for the hike?

First, it makes the fight politically easier because the unions only have to defeat one industry lobby, instead of every business that uses unskilled labor. Second, the SEIU, in particular, represents a lot of food workers and has for years been pushing to unionize the big fast-food chains.

Who loses?

First, businesses, especially those operating on thin margins. They’ll be staring at a 70% increase in labor costs, already typically one of the biggest expenses for restaurants.

Less experienced workers — especially unskilled immigrants and young people starting out in the job market — will also lose. Businesses will try to offset some of higher cost of labor by cutting hours or jobs, delaying or cancelling expansions, replacing labor with capital where they can, and replacing less skilled with more skilled workers where they can’t.

They’ll also try to raise prices to cover costs, so consumers lose, too — especially those who eat fast-food more often, have tighter budgets, and have food as a bigger share of their budgets: i.e., low and lower-middle income families.

The net effect this will be less employment, less production, and less consumption. The economy and especially less-advantaged people will be worse off for it.

Miscellaneous arguments:

  • CEO pay: The Times awkwardly shoehorns in the fact that McDonald’s chief executive made $7.5 million last year, presumably trying to suggest that he’s the reason its other 420,000 employees are paid so little. In case you’re wondering, redistributing his salary comes out to 5 cents per employee per day. And then McDonald’s has no CEO. Hurray?
  • Corporate Subsidy: The Times also uncritically repeats the incoherent claim that taxpayers are somehow “subsidizing” these “multinational corporations” because they don’t pay “enough to keep their workers from relying on food stamps and other welfare benefits.” This makes no sense at all.
  • No Big Deal: The economists who claim that raising the minimum wage won’t hurt employment that much always couch it with the caveat that the increase be “small” or “moderate.” By no stretch of the imagination is hiking the wage floor to $15 “moderate.” In New York, it’s a 70% increase; in states with the federal minimum of $7.25, it’s 107% increase.

Antony Davies has charted the relationship between the minimum wage as a share of the average wage and the unemployment rates for different workers over time.

There’s no connection between the minimum wage and unemployment for the college-educated, but for those with high school or less, there’s a strong positive correlation:

Notice that the chart axis stops at 45% of the average hourly wage: in more than three decades, the minimum wage has never gone higher. Today, according to BLS data, a $15 minimum wage would be 60% of the average hourly wage — the highest relative minimum wage ever. We are literally going into uncharted territory.

Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier is the editor of Anything Peaceful. He writes on issues relating to science, civil liberties, and economic freedom.

Integrity Florida Releases Research Report on Minimum Wage

Integrity Florida, the nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog, released a new report today that examines minimum wage policy in state and local governments and the effect that increases in the wage have on employment.

The research report does not take a position on either side of the ongoing minimum wage debate. Rather, it seeks to add independent and unbiased context to that debate and answer the question “does increasing the minimum wage result in job loss?”

“We wanted to take an objective look at the claim made by some that an increase in the minimum wage means employers will cut jobs,” said Ben Wilcox, Research Director for Integrity Florida. “Our research found no evidence that claim is true.”

The report contains three major components: (1) a review of existing studies on the issue; (2) comparing job growth in states that have raised the minimum wage since January 1, 2014, with states that have not; and (3) comparing the current number of jobs in cities and counties where a minimum wage increase has been in effect at least a year with the number of jobs before the raise went into effect. The research is based on employment numbers provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We found no evidence of job loss in states, counties and cities where the minimum wage has increased,” said researcher Alan Stonecipher. “Everywhere we looked there were only varying degrees of employment gains.”

Key Findings

  • The preponderance of research finds that raising the minimum wage does not cause job loss.
  • Economists cite several reasons why increases in the minimum wage, which raise employers’ cost, generally do not cost jobs.
  • In the 25 states plus the District of Columbia where the minimum wage has increased since January 1, 2014, through recently in 2015, job growth has been higher than in states where the rate did not go up.
  • Similarly, in all of the five cities and counties where increases in the minimum wage had been in effect for more than a year, the number of jobs has grown.
  • The results of the state and city case studies do not prove that a higher minimum wage results in job growth.  But the results provide no indication that a higher minimum wage is associated with job losses.

ABOUT INTEGRITY FLORIDA:

Integrity Florida is a nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog whose mission is to promote integrity in government and expose public corruption. more information at www.integrityflorida.org.

Marriage and the (Forgotten) Middle Class Welfare State by Daniel Bier

Jason Kuznicki, in his wonderful post on marriage and the state, included this baffling chart of how the marriage penalty/bonus affects couples jointly filing tax returns:

Kuznicki points out that the penalty/bonus part is just an inevitable artifact of the progressive income tax system. The math just works out that way.

But, my friend Sean J. Rosenthal points out, the chart also shows Director’s Law: “Public expenditures are made for the primary benefit of the middle classes, and financed with taxes which are borne in considerable part by the poor and the rich.”

George Stigler, channeling the work of the great Chicago economist Aaron Director, coined the term in a 1970 article in the Journal of Law and Economics.

The logic of Director’s Law is:

Government has coercive power, which allows it to engage in acts (above all, the taking of resources) which could not be performed by voluntary agreement of the members of a society.

Any portion of the society which can secure control of the state’s machinery will employ the machinery to improve its own position.

Under a set of conditions… this dominant group will be the middle income classes.

Stigler went on to describe the Public Choice calculus for a wealthy modern democracy. In a society like ours, with our electoral institutions, the interests of the middle class will always have the biggest sway on public policy, since most people fall in the middle of the income distribution, rather than at bottom or the top.

Politicians will (and must) try to gratify the middle’s desires and shift the costs somewhere else — i.e., the rich and the poor and future generations, since they have relatively less influence on public policy. (Though this general rule is not to say that there aren’t also policies that primarily benefit the poor or the wealthy.)

This explains a lot of features of public policy that don’t fit with the normal “welfare is all about the poor” or “the rich run everything” paradigms.

For instance, Obamacare’s insurance scheme is basically all a big subsidy for older, relatively wealthier middle class people at the expensive of younger, poorer people. The other half of Obamacare, the Medicaid expansion, increases eligibility for Medicaid up to 400% of the poverty line — that safety net is catching some pretty middling fish at this point.

Medicare and Social Security, the marriage penalty/bonus distribution, college student loans, tax write-offs for mortgage payments and employer-sponsored health insurance, small business favoritism, and a host of other policies are essentially giveaways to the middle class, at the expense of the rich and poor.

Nonetheless, we should expect politicians to continue harping on the plight of the middle class, stroking voters’ fears and concerns about the “shrinking middle,” promising to “rebuild the middle class,” pass “tax cuts for the middle class,” save “Main Street,” and on, and on.

And who could ever be against helping middle class? Nobody. And that’s how we end up being content with a marriage policy that punishes poor (and rich) working couples, even while pundits bemoan the state of marriage.

Update #1: As with many later developments in economics, Frederic Bastiat anticipated Public Choice by more than a hundred years. In his Selected Essays on Political Economy, recently republished by FEE, he wrote,

When, under the pretext of fraternity, the legal code imposes mutual sacrifices on the citizens, human nature is not thereby abrogated. Everyone will then direct his efforts toward contributing little to, and taking much from, the common fund of sacrifices.

Now, is it the most unfortunate who gain in this struggle? Certainly not, but rather the most influential and calculating.

Update #2: I see that Director’s Law was first mentioned in the Freeman, before Stigler published on it in JLE, in John Chamberlain’s coverage of the 1969 Mont Pelerin Society meeting in Venezuela.


Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier is the editor of Anything Peaceful. He writes on issues relating to science, civil liberties, and economic freedom.