Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

March 5, 2013

Raising minimum wage: A bad idea for a multitude of reasons

Another of President Barack Obama’s bad ideas is to force employers to pay higher wages to the lowest skilled and/or least experienced workers on the premise that by raising the take-home pay of these people, the world will be better.

Unfortunately, lots of people agree with him, including some who are usually far more sensible. They think that raising the minimum wage would put more money into the economy, and that can’t be a bad thing, can it? First of all, it doesn’t put money into the economy; it merely moves it around unnaturally. And, as usual, there are other repercussions that haven’t been considered.

Since the number of people that earn the minimum wage is relatively small, any direct help is minimal. In January the U.S. Labor Force was 155.6 million, with about 102 million working full-time. Only 1.5 million earn the minimum wage, about nine-tenths percent. It is most often a starting wage level for teenagers with few or no skills and/or experience. And while the president didn’t mention this, just because someone starts at the minimum, that doesn’t mean they earn at that level for long. Research shows that nearly two-thirds of those earners get a raise from one month to a year after they begin work.

U.S. Census data shows that only 15 percent of minimum wage earners are single parents, and all are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit. The remaining 85 percent are teens living with their working parents or other working relatives, adults living alone, or married adults living with a working spouse. The average family wage of a minimum wage earner is more than $43,000 a year.

So, the problem the president believes he will solve by increasing the minimum wage is so small as to be no real problem at all, and there is evidence that far more harm than good will result.

Mr. Obama proposes to raise the rate from $7.25 to $9 an hour over two years. Something he never talks about — and may neither think about nor care about — is the question of where this money for higher wages will come from. Somehow, employers will have to find a way to pay every minimum wage worker 24 percent more over a two-year period, which works out to increases of $3,600 in annual wage increases per worker over that time frame.

Will they reduce the number of minimum wage workers? The increase in pay for every four workers is nearly equal to the pay of one worker under the existing minimum wage. If you are a minimum wage earner, you might ask yourself: would you rather earn $7.25 an hour for 40 hours a week, or $9 an hour for zero hours a week?

Will they raise their prices by 24 percent, making their products more expensive for everyone, including those who earn the new minimum wage?

What about people who earn a bit more than the current minimum, but less than nine bucks? They will have to be increased to $9 per hour, which makes them minimum wage earners again after having been at a rate higher than the minimum, perhaps after having worked their way up from that level. What will employers do? Will they increase those hourly wages by $1.75 an hour to keep them where they were relative to the minimum wage; will they give them a smaller raise; or will they just pay them $9?

And what about those who earned more than $9 an hour, and are now $1.75 an hour closer to the minimum? How will they react? Shouldn’t everyone get a raise; wouldn’t that be the “fair” thing to do? How much additional costs to employers will this cause?

“The effects of the minimum wage are declines in employment for the very least skilled workers,” according to David Neumark, a University of California, Irvine, professor who has studied the issue. He says the benefits of higher minimum wages sometimes go to teens in higher-income families taking part-time jobs. “A lot of the benefits of minimum wages leak out to families way above the poverty line,” he said.

So, the minimum wage hike really helps only a relative few, sometimes helps those that don’t need it, reduces hiring of minimum wage workers, and makes running businesses more expensive for employers, who would have to find a way to pay for increased wages for many more workers than just those earning the minimum. They might have to defer expanding their business or purchasing new equipment. Or, they might have to increase the prices for their products and services. Or they might have to do some of all of those things.

All jobs and workers have economic value based upon the importance of their work to the business of which they are a component that is not related to the desires of politicians to endear themselves to a segment of the populous.

Politicians cannot change economic reality, but they do not let that stop them from trying, and we can see all around us in the current economic malaise what happens when they try to manipulate the economic environment.

James H. “Smokey” Shott, a resident of Bluefield, Va., is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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