Employment effects of living wage laws

For some years, liberal groups in America like ACORN (Association of Community Organisations for Reform Now) have pushed hard to get so-called living wage laws enacted in cities and counties throughout the country. More than 60 jurisdictions have done so since the first in Baltimore in 1994.

  • Typically, living wage laws require city contractors to pay their employees a wage significantly higher than the minimum wage as a condition for doing business with the city.

  • Living wage rates are often tied to the poverty-level income for a family of four, which was $17,761 per year in 2000 or just $8,959 for a single person.

  • Thus one effect of a living wage law is to pay single people and two-earner couples considerably more than a living wage, as defined by the poverty level.

    The point is that it is silly to assume every worker is the sole wage earner in a four-person family, as living wage advocates do.

    Living wage campaigns are mainly fronts for municipal employee unions who want to raise labour costs for potential private competitors.

    In fact, a new study by economist David Neumark finds that existing government employees are the primary beneficiaries of living wage laws.

  • This is the main reason why he finds that living wage laws raise local wages.

  • However, Neumark also finds that forcing up wages causes demand for labour to fall; thus while workers covered by the living wage law typically see a 3.5 percent increase in wages, there is a 7 percent increase in unemployment among low-wage workers.

    Taxpayers foot the bill for the higher wages. They may pay again when businesses relocate elsewhere, thus reducing the tax base.

    Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, March 20, 2002; see David Neumark, How Living Wage Laws Affect Low-Wage Workers and Low Income Families, March 2002, Public Policy Institute of California.

    For PPIC text http://www.ppic.org/publications/PPIC156/ppic156.alltext.pdf
    For more on "Living Wage" Regulations http://www.ncpa.org/iss/min

    FMF Policy Bulletin\26 March 2002
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