Did Minimum Wage Increase Cause The Increase In Unemployment?
According to economic theory, higher minimum wages should all other things being equal increase unemployment as it prices out workers with low productivity. There are however two cases where it won't result in higher unemployment. One case is the so-called monopsony scenario where the employment of new workers would compel employers to raise wages for existing workers, causing the marginal cost of labor to exceed wages. A minimum wage above existing wage levels but below the marginal cost of labor would imply that even as existing workers get more paid, employing new ones would be cheaper. The other case is when minimum wages are so low that no workers get affected by it. For example, if there was a minimum wage of 10 cents per hour and it was raised to 15 cents, the number or workers losing their jobs from this increase will be approximately zero.
The first scenario of monopsony doesn't seem very applicable to the real world. It is relatively rare that new employees get better paid than previous employees had before, and even in the cases when they do, the employer can usually get away with it. The other scenario however seems to be closer to the truth. The new minimum wage of $5.85 is so low that very few workers are affected by it in either a positive (higher pay check) or negative (losing their jobs) way. Even assuming government inflation statistics does not underestimate inflation, the real value of the minimum wage is more than 30% lower than in 1980, and is roughly 50% lower than in for example the U.K., France and Australia. And that is the $5.85 minimum wage we're talking about, the $5.15 minimum wage is of course even lower. While the increase may have destroyed a few jobs, we are talking about very few, at most a tenth of a percent or so.
This is confirmed if we look at the pattern of job losses. Most jobs have been lost in manufacturing and construction, two sectors where pay is so high that virtually no jobs are affected by the minimum wage. By contrast, leisure and hospitality, the sector where pay is lowest and so the sector most likely affected by the minimum wage, the number of employed workers is actually up roughly 2% compared to last year. Even if that number is somewhat inflated by the flawed birth death model, it seems clear that the sector is one of the best performing. All of this suggests that the minimum wage increase have been only a negligible factor behind the jump in the unemployment rate.
This should of course not be seen as a defense of the minimum wage increase. The reason the increase has resulted in so few job losses is because it affects so few workers, which of course also means that only very few workers have experienced higher take home pay. But these results do indicate that the increase in unemployment is cyclical, which in turn suggests that the blame for the higher unemployment rate should be placed on the people responsible for the current downturn, which is to say first and foremost Greenspan and to a lesser extent also Bernanke.