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Low-Skilled Workers Flee the Minimum Wage – Article by Corey Iacono

Low-Skilled Workers Flee the Minimum Wage – Article by Corey Iacono

The New Renaissance HatCorey Iacono

What happens when, in a country where workers are free to move, a region raises its minimum wage? Do those with the fewest skills seek out the regions with the highest wage floors?

New minimum wage research by economist Joan Monras of the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) attempts to answer that question. Monras theoretically shows that there should be a close relationship between the employment effects of raising the minimum wage and the migration of low-skilled workers.

When the demand for local low-skilled labor is relatively unresponsive (or inelastic) to wage changes, raising the minimum wage should lead to an influx of low-skilled workers from other states in search of better-paying jobs. On the other hand, if the demand for low-skilled labor is relatively responsive (or elastic), raising the minimum wage will lead low-skilled workers to flee to states where they will more easily find employment.

To test the model empirically, Monras examined data from all the changes in effective state minimum wages over the period 1985 to 2012. Looking at time frames of three years before and after each minimum wage increase, Monras found that

  1. As depicted in the graph below on the left, those who kept their jobs earned more under the minimum wage. No surprise there.
  2. As depicted in the graph below on the right, workers with the fewest skills were having an easier time finding full-time employment prior to the minimum wage increase. But this trend completely reversed as soon as the minimum wage was increased.
  3. A control group of high-skilled workers didn’t experience either of these effects. Those affected by the changing laws were the least skilled and the most vulnerable.


These results show that the timing of minimum wage increases is not random.

Instead, policy makers tend to raise minimum wages when low-skilled workers’ real wages are declining and employment is rising. Many studies, misled by the assumption that the timing of minimum wage increases is not influenced by local labor demand, have interpreted the lack of falling low-skilled employment following a minimum wage increase as evidence that minimum wage increases have no effect on employment.

When Monras applied this same false assumption to his model, he got the same result. However, to observe the true effect of minimum wage increases on employment, he assumed a counterfactual scenario where, had the minimum wages not been raised, the trend in low-skilled employment growth would have continued as it was.

By making this comparison, Monras was able to estimate that wages increased considerably following a minimum wage hike, but employment also fell considerably. In fact, employment fell more than wages rose. For every 1 percent increase in wages, the share of a state’s population of low-skilled workers in full-time employment fell by 1.2 percent. (The same empirical approach showed that minimum wage increases had no effect on the wages or employment of a control group of high-skilled workers.)

Monras’s model predicts that if labor demand is sensitive to wage changes, low-skilled workers should leave states that increase their minimum wages — and that’s exactly what his empirical evidence shows.

According to Monras,

A 1 percent reduction in the share of employed low-skilled workers [following a minimum wage increase] reduces the share of low-skilled population by between .5 and .8 percent. It is worth emphasizing that this is a surprising and remarkable result: workers for whom the [minimum wage] policy was designed leave the states where the policy is implemented.

These new and important findings reinforce the view that minimum wage increases come at a cost to the employment rates of low-skilled workers.

They also pose a difficult question for minimum wage proponents: If minimum wage increases benefit low-skilled workers, why do these workers leave the states that raise their minimum wage?

Corey Iacono is a student at the University of Rhode Island majoring in pharmaceutical science and minoring in economics.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Why Unskilled Workers Do Not Need the Minimum Wage (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Why Unskilled Workers Do Not Need the Minimum Wage (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published August 16, 2009
as Part of Issue CCIII of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 24, 2014
Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CCIII of The Rational Argumentator on August 16, 2009, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 24, 2014

I was recently asked whether one justification for the minimum wage might be a lack of genuine bargaining power among unskilled workers, as compared to high-skilled workers. The argument implicit in the question was that a specific unskilled worker can give his employer no reason to retain him in particular, and so the employer can afford to push down the unskilled worker’s wage to a ridiculously low amount. At the same time, the unskilled worker cannot find any opportunities to work elsewhere. I do not think that such suppositions are realistic, however.

Let us compare unskilled workers with workers who have specialized skill sets. High-skilled workers do indeed have more bargaining power within their specific places of employment, as they are more difficult to replace and more valuable to their employers. However, they also have fewer competitors to whom they could go if their current employment situation does not turn out to their liking. This is because a narrower range of employers would demand a worker with a certain specific skill set than would demand a generic unskilled worker. An unskilled worker can earn his maximum current possible income working in, say, a factory, a fast-food restaurant, or a custodial job for a variety of employers. A skilled accountant, on the other hand, can only earn his maximum current possible income working as an accountant, if that is his most valuable skill according to the market.

Both the skilled and the unskilled worker will tend to earn the marginal product of their labor – i.e., the amount of value that their labor contributes to the product they create – in a truly free market. The skilled worker will earn this because of his high bargaining power. The unskilled worker will earn this because he has so many alternatives with regard to employers. If the current employer does not pay the unskilled worker his marginal product of labor, numerous other employers will try to bid away the work of that person by offering slightly higher wages. Say, for instance, unskilled worker X has a marginal product of labor of $5 per hour, but he is only paid $1 at his present job with Employer A. Employer B sees a lucrative opportunity if he could hire X at $2 per hour and keep $3 of X’s hourly product for himself. So X is hired by B at $2 per hour. Now Employer C sees a lucrative opportunity if he could hire X at $3 per hour and keep $2 of X’s hourly product for himself. So X is hired by C at $3 per hour. This will tend to keep happening until X is hired by an employer who pays him his marginal product and therefore creates a situation where X cannot be bid away by a competitor offering higher wages.

This is a dynamic process, and it takes time to attain. In the meantime X’s skills might be improving as a result of on-the-job training and experience – so his marginal product might increase still further, and “equilibrium” might never be fully attained. Nonetheless, the market process functions to relentlessly approach equilibrium by means of the perceptiveness of entrepreneurs, motivated by profit and desiring to out-compete their rivals by means of greater perceptiveness and by offering better terms to employees and customers.

I do not think there is ever truly a situation where a worker has “no choice” about where to work. Moreover, I do not think there is ever a situation where a healthy human being is forever condemned to earn a low wage. A low initial wage is an excellent opportunity for many workers to gain the knowledge and experience necessary to earn higher wages in the future. There is no better job training than training on the job – as every job I have ever had demonstrated to me. By prohibiting people from working for pay below a certain level, the minimum wage laws deprive many workers of the opportunity to gain such invaluable experience.

Click here to read more articles in Issue CCIII of The Rational Argumentator.

The Minimum Wage Forces Low-Skill Workers to Compete with Higher-Skill Workers – Article by George Reisman

The Minimum Wage Forces Low-Skill Workers to Compete with Higher-Skill Workers – Article by George Reisman

The New Renaissance Hat
George Reisman
January 4, 2014

The efforts underway by the Service Employees International Union, and its political and media allies, to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour would, if successful, cause major unemployment among low-skilled workers, who are the supposed beneficiaries of those efforts.

The reason is not only the fact that higher wages serve to raise costs of production and thus prices, which in turn serves to reduce physical sales volume and thus the number of workers needed. There is also another equally, if not more important reason in this case, and it is a reason which is only very inadequately described by reference to the substitution of machinery or automation for the direct labor of workers when wages are increased.

This is the fact that a low wage constitutes a competitive advantage for less-skilled workers that serves to protect them from competition from more-skilled workers. In other words, a wage of $7.25 per hour for fast-food workers serves to protect those workers from competition from workers able to earn $8 to $15 per hour in other lines of work. The workers able to earn these higher wage rates are not interested in seeking employment at the lower wage rates of the fast-food workers.

But if the wage of the fast-food workers, and all other workers presently earning less than $15 per hour, is raised to $15 per hour, then these more capable workers can now earn as much as fast-food workers as they can in any of the occupations in which they had been working up to now.

Moreover, the widespread rise in wage rates to $15 per hour will cause unemployment in all of the occupations affected. The unemployed clerks, telemarketers, factory workers, and whoever, who otherwise would have earned between $8 and $15 per hour, will have no reason not to apply for work in fast food, which will now pay as much as any other occupation that is open to them. And since those workers are more capable, it is overwhelmingly likely that to the extent that they do seek employment as fast-food workers, they will be preferred over the low-skilled workers who presently work in fast-food establishments. Thus, the rise in the wage of the fast-food workers will serve as an invitation to the competition of large numbers of workers who do not presently think of working as fast-food workers and who, being better qualified, will almost certainly take away their jobs.

Between less employment overall in the least-skilled lines of work such as fast food, and the incentive created for vastly increased competition for employment in those lines coming from more qualified workers, the effect could well be to close those lines altogether to the employment of workers at the low end of skill and ability. That, of course, would deprive these people of the opportunity to acquire skills and abilities from work experience that otherwise would have enabled them to become capable of performing more demanding jobs later on.

What the demand for a $15 an hour minimum wage represents is a case of low-skilled workers being led to reach for a high-wage “bird in the bush,” so to speak. Unfortunately, at the high wage, there are both fewer birds in the bush than are presently in hand and most or all of them will fly away into the hands of others, who possess greater skills and abilities, if the attempt is made to reach for them.

This must ultimately be the result even if somehow the present fast-food workers and the like could be enabled to keep their jobs for a time. Even so, practically every time that it became a question of hiring someone new, the new employees would almost certainly be drawn from the ranks of workers of greater skill and ability than those who had customarily been employed in these jobs. Thus, even if not immediately, in time there would simply be no more room in the economic system for workers at or near the bottom of the skills ladder.

No one can question the desirability of being able to earn $15 an hour rather than $7.25 an hour. Still more desirable would be the ability to earn $50 an hour instead of $15 an hour. However, it is necessary to know considerably more than this about economics before attempting to enact sweeping changes in economic policy, changes to be achieved by attempting to organize a mass movement that is based on nothing but a desire for economic improvement and no real knowledge whatever of how actually to achieve it.

George Reisman, Ph.D., is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics and the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996; Kindle Edition, 2012). See his author’s central page for additional titles by him. His website is and his blog is Follow him on Twitter.

This article was published on and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.