Over time, higher minimum wages cannot help but drive capital away from business models that rely on low-productivity workers, whether that means moving the work overseas, automating it, or implementing operations that utilize higher-productivity workers instead. ... If society knew how to instill higher productivity in a worker, that could be good news. Unfortunately, our experience has been the opposite. Our education system struggles to prepare many young people for the job market. A proportion of those who enroll in higher education either fail to graduate or end up in a job that does not require their degree anyway. Government training programs perform poorly.
If the least productive workers can just disappear, policymakers achieve 'success' by dismissing the challenge that deserves greatest attention. Instead, our conception of 'productivity growth' must impose accountability for labor-market exits, recognize the value of keeping low-productivity workers connected to the job market, and have an explicit goal of ensuring that those workers are included in progress. This is doubly true because productivity measures do not fully capture the value of a job, which offers substantial non-economic benefits to many workers and may also be the best avenue for them to gain new skills and thereby increase their productivity over time. A high-productivity job requires a highly productive worker. A future filled with such jobs will materialize only if today’s less productive workers become able to do them.
Florida Republican senator Marco Rubio, a member of the bipartisan congressional task force on Puerto Rico, has proposed a unique approach to these challenges. He is introducing the Economic Mobility for Productive Livelihoods and Expanding Opportunity ('EMPLEO') Act, which would effectively reduce the island’s minimum hourly wage to $5 and use a federal wage subsidy to close half the gap between the wage paid by an employer and a target wage of $10 per hour.
You need economic growth to create jobs but I think it's important to realize that economic growth is a necessary but not sufficient condition. That you can also get an awful lot of economic growth that doesn't create an awful lot of jobs. If you see it as part of the government's mandate to not just maximize GDP but actually make sure that people from their diverse backgrounds with their diverse talents and capabilities can find a place in our economy, then policy needs to do a lot more than just say what maximizes economic growth.
The most absurd plank to appear in either party's platform this year is the Democrats' call to 'raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over time and index it.' It is policy written for the nation's very wealthiest enclaves, but incoherent for economically distressed regions. Looked at from El Paso, Texas, where the median hourly wage is only $12.70, a national $15-per-hour minimum sounds no saner than a $29-per-hour minimum would in Washington, D.C.
Complaints about the U.S. minimum typically focus on just the federal level, and by that standard we do indeed lag other developed, free-market economies--compare our minimum-to-median ratio of 0.41 ($7.25/hr vs. $17.40/hr) to the 0.46 average for Japan, Korea, Canada, United Kingdom, Netherlands, and Australia. But to account for the size and diversity of our national labor market, we allow state local governments to set higher minimums and they have taken up that offer--for instance, the 13 states with the highest median wages have all set minimums at least $1 above the federal minimum. Taking into account the prevailing minimum wage in each local market, the U.S. minimum-to-median ratio is actually 0.47, slightly above peers.
The size and diversity of the U.S. labor market make a national lens inappropriate for evaluating minimum-wage policy. A dramatic increase in the federal minimum wage--to $15 or even $12 per hour--would replace a system that tailors policy to local conditions with a system that imposes a single standard from America's most prosperous cities on less affluent areas that can ill afford it.
Hold still, low-wage America, the editors of the New York Times would like to perform an experiment on you. They want to turn the minimum-wage dial all the way up to $15 per hour and see what happens. It is, in their view, a matter of 'human rights.? Will such a massive shock to the system hurt? Of course not. Or yes. The truth is, the New York Times has no idea.
Politically, there is much for both the left and the right to like about a wage subsidy. It does not discourage hiring or raise prices, some of the right's main complaints about the minimum-wage increase. But it also lifts paychecks directly, which is what the left likes so much about raising the minimum wage. Best of all, it would use current government spending in a way that helps the poor find work and better helps the working poor -- which should make everyone happy.
Two wage-support tools typically receive consideration: the minimum wage and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Both have the potential to significantly increase disposable income for at least some low-income workers. But their mechanisms--and impact--differ dramatically. The minimum wage, a price floor under wages, performs well vis-?-vis an individual worker but poorly in its labor-market and distributional effects. The EITC, a subsidy for income earned, has strengths and weaknesses roughly the opposite. The drawbacks of both tools prevent them from delivering fully on their antipoverty goals. Any discussion of wage-support options should include a third policy tool with the potential to deliver the best of both worlds: a wage subsidy delivered directly to low-wage workers, via their paychecks, as additional dollars per hour for every hour worked.
An ideal policy would look to workers like an increased minimum wage (more pay for every hour worked) but to the labor market and broader society like an expanded EITC (a government subsidy to support the low-income worker). A wage subsidy would do just that.