Monday, November 27, 2006
The Minimum Wage
Becker: A recent petition by over 600 economists, including 5 Nobel Laureates in Economics, advocated a phased-in rise in the federal minimum wage to a much higher $7.25 per hour from the present $5.15 per hour. This petition received much attention, and the number of economists signing is impressive (and depressing). Still, the American Economic Association has over 20,000 members, and I suspect that a clear majority of these members would have refused to sign that petition if they had been asked. They believe, as I do, that the negative effects of a higher minimum wage would outweigh any positive effects. That is one reason I would surmise why only a fraction of the 35 living economists who received the Nobel Prize signed on to the petition--I believe all were asked to sign.
Posner: Although working full time at $5.15 an hour yields an annual income (slightly more than $10,000) barely above the poverty line, most minimum-wage workers are part time, and for the majority of them their minimum-wage employment supplements an income derived from other sources. Examples of such workers are retirees living on social security or private pensions who want to
get out of the house part of the day and earn some pin money, stay-at-home spouses who want to supplement their full-time spouse's earnings, teenagers working after school, and other students. An increase in the minimum wage--depending critically of course on how great the increase is--will provide a windfall to some minimum-wage workers, many of whom are not poor, and disemploy some others, also not poor. The effect on wage equality is likely to be slight, but consumer prices will be higher (which may reduce overall equality) and the efficiency with which goods and services are produced by low-wage workers will be reduced.