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California’s Statewide $15 Minimum Wage Will Horribly Backfire for Poorer Cities by Mark J. Perry

I wrote earlier this month about one of the potentially fatal flaws of California’s recently enacted $15 an hour statewide minimum wage: a one-size-fits-all uniform $15 minimum wage for the entire state of California is really a “one-size-fits-none” minimum wage, given the huge variations in the cost of living around the country’s most populous state.

While a high-wage, high cost-of-living city like San Francisco might be able to absorb a $15 minimum wage without experiencing significant negative employment effects, that same $15 wage could inflict serious economic damages and result in job losses for many of the state’s 500 cities that are in low-wage, low cost-of-living areas.

To help understand how the “one-size-fits-all” approach of a $15 an hour state minimum wage will have a disproportionately adverse impact on low-cost communities in California, the table below displays the “living hourly wages” for California’s 26 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), based on data from MIT’s Living Wage Calculator for the year 2014 (most recent year available).

According to the MIT website, the cost-of-living adjusted living wages are the “hourly rates that individuals must earn [in a given MSA] to support their family [and cover basic family expenses], if they are the sole provider and are working full-time (2,080 hours per year).” Living wages for adult workers with 1 to 3 children are also displayed in the table.

The living wage data shown above reveal huge differences in the cost-of-living between low-cost California MSAs like Yuba City, El Centro, Chico, and Merced (living wages are below $10 an hour) and high-cost cities like San Francisco and San Jose, where the cost-of-living adjusted living wage is 38% higher.

If $15 an hour is an appropriate minimum wage for San Francisco, it should be less than $11 an hour in MSAs like Yuba City and El Centro, where the cost-of-living is significantly lower. It’s also important to note that all four of those low-cost MSAs had jobless rates above the state average in February, and three of them (all except Chico) had double-digit unemployment rates in February, with El Centro having the distinction of once again being the MSA with the highest jobless rate in the entire country at 18.6%.

Therefore, many MSAs in California (like Yuba City, El Centro, Chico and Merced) not only have costs-of-living way below the state average, but they also have jobless rates that are way above the state average, and it’s those MSAs that will be adversely impacted by the imposition of a uniform state minimum wage of $15 an hour.

Bottom Line: As I concluded before, even supporters of a $15 an hour minimum wage in California would have to concede that a one-size-fits-all, uniform $15 an hour state minimum wage, without any adjustments for the significant differences in the cost-of-living across the Golden State, will disproportionately affect unskilled and limited-experience workers in low-cost MSAs like Yuba City and El Centro, and also in hundreds of other low-cost, low-wage cities (that are not part of an MSA) throughout the state.

In other words, a one-size-fits-all minimum wage for all 500 cities in California is really a “one-size-fits-none” minimum wage, and will inflict very serious and long-lasting economic damage in most parts of the state outside of the large metro areas on the coast (LA, San Francisco, and San Diego).

The clumsy, top-down, ham-handed approach of government imposed wage controls like a $15 an hour statewide minimum wage in California, without allowing for any adjustments to accommodate the significant differences in cost-of-living and labor market conditions, is one of the main reasons the Golden State’s risky experiment with a $15 wage will likely backfire and be “not-so-golden” in practice.

In contrast, one of the significant advantages of market-determined wages is that they can naturally and automatically adjust to the market conditions of local areas. For example, we might expect that the starting wages for national chains like McDonald’s (1,165 stores in California) and Starbucks (2,000 locations) would vary around the state of California based on local labor market conditions and the local cost-of-living, and would be higher in San Francisco than in cities like El Centro.

But a government mandated price control like the $15 an hour uniform minimum wage in California that outlaws adjustments to fit the customized needs of the 500 individual city-level labor markets in the state is a public policy destined to fail — especially in the state’s low-wage, low cost-of-living cities with high jobless rates that are the most vulnerable to the “one-size-fits-none” awkwardness and clumsiness that is the $15 statewide minimum wage in California.

Related: See my article with AEI colleague Andrew Biggs titled “A National Minimum Wage Is a Bad Fit for Low-Cost Communities.

Bonus Question: I included the living wages above that MIT calculated would be necessary to support an adult-headed household with either one, two or three children so that I could feature the question posed below by Georgetown University professor Jason Brennan at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog in his post titled “Some Questions for Living Wage Advocates” (h/t Don Boudreaux):

If you believe employers owe employees a living wage, do you think that an employer has a moral duty to pay an employee more just because [he or] she has more children?

Reprinted with the permission of the American Enterprise Institute.

Mark J. PerryMark 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.

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.

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.