By the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy
The odds that legislators will vote to raise New Hampshire’s minimum wage this year are significantly better than the odds that sitting through next year’s Super Bowl halftime show will be more entertaining than going to the kitchen for more nachos.
Ideas like this, as expressed by Rep. Howard Moffett, D-Canterbury:
“If there is more money in people’s pockets, they are going to spend more. That will mean more business and they will go and hire more workers. It is a virtuous circle in the economy.”
Some people really believe that taxing businesses (the minimum wage is effectively a tax on hiring low-skilled labor) and transferring the revenue to the least-skilled employees will make those businesses more profitable than if they had been left alone to use that money in more productive ways.
That theory runs counter to the vast majority of work on minimum wages and, even if plausible, as The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissman pointed out a few years ago, its stimulating effects would be short-lived.
New Hampshire’s minimum wage is pegged to the federal minimum, which is $7.25 an hour. A lot of people believe that people who earn this wage make up a large fraction of the labor force and tend to be primary bread-winners working full time to support their families. None of that is true.
Here are five facts about the minimum wage that ought to inform whatever debate there will be on the topic as the legislature decides how much to tax employers for the practice of hiring low-skilled employees.
- Nationally, only 2.3 percent of all hourly wage workers earn $7.25 per hour or less, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show. “Minimum wage workers tend to be young,” according to the BLS. “Although workers under age 25 represented only about one-fifth of hourly paid workers, they made up about half of those paid the federal minimum wage or less.” They also tend to be single. Never-married individuals make up 40 percent of those who earn an hourly wage but 68 percent of hourly wage workers who earn a minimum wage. Married individuals are 44 percent of hourly wage workers but only 21 percent of hourly wage workers who earn the minimum wage or less.
- Minimum-wage employees tend to work part-time, BLS data show. Although about 75 percent of hourly wage workers hold full-time jobs, only 35 percent hourly employees with a full-time job earn the minimum wage or less. Only 25 percent of hourly workers hold part-time jobs, but 65 percent of hourly workers with part-time jobs earn the minimum wage or less. Of minimum-wage employees, fully 60 percent work part time.
- In New Hampshire, the number of minimum wage workers fell by almost half in 2017, dropping from just over 15,000 people in 2016 to just 8,000 in 2017, according to the state Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau. Forty-nine percent of those 8,000 minimum-wage earners were under age 25, and the same percentage worked part-time.
- The minimum wage is an entry-level wage typically paid to the lowest-skilled employees, the vast majority of whom work their way to higher pay within a year. A 2013 study by Texas A&M economists for the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “minimum wage compensation is three- and-a half times more prevalent among new workers than in the entire labor force.” Using data for 3.5 million people from 1979-2012, they found that 77.6 percent of people who earned the minimum wage in one year were still employed the following year, and of those 65.85 percent earned more than the minimum wage.
That last study, by the way, also found that “the minimum wage reduces net job growth, primarily through its effect on job creation by expanding establishments.” That is, the minimum wage doesn’t necessarily always produce an instantaneous reduction in jobs. Rather, it suppresses job growth over time, leading to fewer jobs than would otherwise be available.
In other words, it’s a tax on low-skilled labor. And like any tax, it reduces the supply of what is taxed.