Economist: The argument in the floor
Evidence is mounting that moderate minimum wages can do more good than harm
... America’s academics still do not agree on the employment effects. But both sides have honed their methods and, in some ways, the gap between them has shrunk. Messrs Card and Krueger moved on to other work, but Arindrajit Dube at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Michael Reich of the University of California at Berkeley have generalised the case-study approach, comparing restaurant employment across all contiguous counties with different minimum-wage levels between 1990 and 2006. They found no adverse effects on employment from a higher minimum wage. They also argue that if research showed such effects, these mostly reflected other differences between American states and had nothing to do with the minimum wage.
Messrs Neumark and Wascher still demur. They have published stacks of studies (and a book) purporting to show that minimum wages hit jobs. In a forthcoming paper they defend their methods and argue that the evidence still favours their view. But even they are no longer blanket opponents. In a 2011 paper they pointed out that a higher minimum wage along with the Earned Income Tax Credit (which tops up income for poor workers in America) boosted both employment and earnings for single women with children (though it cost less-skilled, minority men jobs).
Britain’s experience offers another set of insights. The country’s national minimum wage was introduced at 46% of the median wage, slightly higher than America’s. A lower floor applied to young people. Both are adjusted annually on the advice of the Low Pay Commission. Before the law took effect, worries about potential damage to employment were widespread. Yet today the consensus is that Britain’s minimum wage has done little or no harm.
The most striking impact of Britain’s minimum wage has been on the spread of wages. Not only has it pushed up pay for the bottom 5% of workers, but it also seems to have boosted earnings further up the income scale—and thus reduced wage inequality. Wage gaps in the bottom half of Britain’s pay scale have shrunk sharply since the late 1990s. A new study by a trio of British labour-market economists (including one at the Low Pay Commission) attributes much of that contraction to the minimum wage. Wage inequality fell more for women (a higher proportion of whom are on the minimum wage) than for men and the effect was most pronounced in low-wage parts of Britain.
This new evidence leaves economists with lots of unanswered questions. What exactly is going on in labour markets if minimum wages do not hurt employment but reduce wage gaps? Are firms cutting costs by squeezing wages elsewhere? Are they improving the productivity of the lowest-wage workers? Some of the newest studies suggest firms employ a variety of strategies to deal with a higher minimum wage, from modestly raising prices to saving money from lower turnover. ...