Saturday, February 22, 2014

De-Coding Economic Propaganda

Raising the minimum wage is in the news again, and with it, lots of economists disagreeing  about what the effects will be.  For every study showing a minor negative effect on employment, another is presented another showing a minor positive effect.  Into the fray has stepped the Employment Policies Institute (EPI) with a dedicated website devoted to educating people about the horror that raising the minimum wage will apparently be.

The top of the website displays a picture of Bill Gates with the caption "why isn't the President listening to this guy?"--not a good start.  Reading further, it only gets worse:

Employees that earn the minimum wage tend to be young, and work in businesses that keep a few cents of each sales dollar after expenses. When the minimum wage goes up, these employers are forced to either pass costs on to consumers in the form of higher prices, or cut costs elsewhere–leading to less full-service and more customer self-service. As a result, fewer hours and jobs are available for less-skilled and less-experienced employees.
Many businesses that pay at or near minimum wage do, actually, have decent profit margins and claiming that increasing wages "forces" businesses to pass on the costs to consumers or reduce staffing is simply ridiculous.  A business could also reduce pay-levels of upper management, decrease dividend payouts, stop buying back their own stock, etc.  The framing also seems worded to encourage the reader to think of a small business, when in fact most people work for large corporations, who are sitting on mountains of cash right now, btw.
Minimum wage increases do not help reduce poverty. Award winning research looked at states that raised their minimum wage between 2003 and 2007 and found no evidence to suggest these higher minimum wages reduced poverty rates. While the few employees who earn a wage increase might benefit from a wage hike, those that lose their job are noticeably worse off.
Notice that it is not mentioned which award this research won or who was giving it out.  And then, of course, winning an award (even a prestigious one that you would feel comfortable mentioning by name) doesn't guarantee the accuracy of your work.  Barack O'bomba, for example, received a Nobel Peace Prize...so I think you see my point.

And as Prof. Sprigs discusses at 6:58 in the video below, studies of the effects of minimum wage have by-and-large either shown no effect or little effect on employment; sometimes that minor effect is positive and sometimes it's negative.  Often, it is statistically insignificant.  Which is what you would expect when looking for the effect of a single variable in a complex, densely inter-twingled system like our economy.
Employees who start at the minimum wage aren’t stuck there. Research found that the majority of employees who start at the minimum wage, move to a higher wage in their first year on the job.
Again, they don't say specifically what research they are referring to, nor do they provide a link to it so that a reader can consider it on its own merits.  It's also worth keeping in mind that most economic "research" was calling for smooth sailing into the indefinite future...right up until the entire financial system imploded.  One should always take economic research with a grain of salt--numbers are easy to manipulate, and perfectly legitimate mathematical operations can provide you with totally illegitimate conclusions.  The numbers, as my old college adviser used to say, never speak for themselves.

Also, having extensive experience in the low-wage sector, I can give you a little hint for understanding that last claim about most workers moving to a higher wage within a year.  Some years back I got a job as a nursing-home housekeeper.  Starting wage--$7.25/hr.  My raise after six months of, by all accounts, stellar job performance--$0.10/hr. 

Just an educated guess here, but I bet the research this website is referring to would claim that my extra dime per hour was "moving to a higher wage."

Here is a much more realistic discussion of the likely effects of raising the minimum wage:

1 comment:

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