Young And Low-Skilled Workers Aren’t Being Hurt By Minimum Wage Hike

Isaiah J. Poole

The right-wing argument that we shouldn’t increase the minimum wage because doing so especially hurts the job prospects of young and low-skilled workers is not standing up to scrutiny.

The latest evidence comes from two University of Delaware economists who have looked at employment trends in the 13 states that have raised their minimum wage above the federal minimum since 2011. Their paper concludes that for two groups most likely to be affected by a minimum-wage increase – workers under age 19 and adults without a high-school diploma – the differences between their employment prospects in states that raised their minimum wage and in states that didn’t “are not statistically significant.”

The bottom line: “There is no evidence of negative employment effects due to increases in state minimum wages,” the report said.

Ben Wolcott of the Center for Economic and Policy Research explains in a blog post that the economists, Saul Hoffman and Wai-Kit (Ricky) Shum, used a methodology that takes into account differing economic growth trends in the states as well as differences among the states in the employment levels of these groups.

When these adjustments are made, young and low-skilled workers actually do slightly better in states that have increased their minimum wage than in those that haven’t. While that improvement is not much better than even, what’s important to note that it’s much better than the scare stories from the right. Typical is a letter to the editor written last month by Michael Saltsman, a research fellow for the Employment Policies Institute, a creation of the right-wing operative Rick Berman not to be confused with the Economic Policy Institute. “The evidence is clear that minimum wage hikes actually harm the people they’re supposed to help,” he wrote, because businesses that hire entry-level workers “can’t just absorb the cost of a mandated wage hike.”

The evidence is indeed clear, but it doesn’t say what Saltsman and the interests that fund Saltsman’s employer, such as the National Restaurant Association, says it does. Raising the minimum wage puts more money into the pockets of working people, helping to lift them out of poverty and dependency. And the moderate wage increases passed by these 13 states have not harmed the ability of low-skilled workers and young people to find work.

The real issue is that these 13 states should not stand alone. The federal minimum wage needs to be increased, so that all workers regardless of where they live can earn enough from full-time work to sustain themselves and their families.

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