Effects of the minimum wage
A minimum wage law is compulsory unemployment. The law says: it is illegal, and therefore criminal, for anyone to hire anyone else below the level of X dollars an hour. This means, plainly and simply, that a large number of free and voluntary wage contracts are now outlawed and hence that there will be a large amount of unemployment. The minimum wage law provides no jobs; it only outlaws them; and outlawed jobs are the inevitable result.
A minimum wage leads to a reduction in the demand for labor and an increase in the supply of labor in the relevant market — usually, the market for low-skill workers. It removes the ability of some workers to compete by accepting lower wages and shuts them out of the labor force. As a result, it reduces job opportunities for these workers.
But there are additional, hidden costs of these interventions, which are more difficult to detect but perhaps more insidious. For example, one effect of a minimum wage is to reduce the availability of on-the-job training, since more resources are required simply to hire and retain a workforce. And further interventions in the labor market (for example, safety regulations and payroll taxes) make it still more costly to employ labor. These burdens together reduce a firm's willingness to hire laborers and — in the long run — must reduce the number of opportunities for those laborers to acquire valuable job skills. Far from increasing opportunities for the working poor, a minimum wage actually restricts their mobility.
Firms faced with minimum wage laws often substitute skilled for unskilled labor. A report from the Show-Me Institute offers an illustrative example: Suppose that a job can be done by either three unskilled workers or two skilled workers. If the unskilled wage is $5 per hour and the skilled wage is $8 per hour, the firm will use unskilled labor and produce the output at a cost of $15. However, if we impose a minimum wage of $6 per hour, the firm will instead use two skilled workers and produce for $16 as opposed to the $18 cost of using unskilled workers. In the "official data" this shows up as a small job loss — in this case, only one job — but we see an increase in average wages to eight dollars per hour in spite of the fact that the least skilled workers are now unemployed.
Minimum wage is especially harmful for minorities. According to a study of two labor economists, Professors William Even (Miami University of Ohio) and David Macpherson (Trinity University), each 10 percent increase in a federal or state minimum wage decreased employment of white males by 2.5 percent; for Hispanic males, the figure is 1.2 percent. But among black males in this group, each 10 percent increase in the minimum wage decreased employment by 6.5 percent. The effect is similar for hours worked: each 10 percent increase reduced hours worked by 3 percent among white males, 1.7 percent for Hispanic males, and by 6.6 percent for black males. The consequences of the minimum wage for the last subgroup were even more harmful than the consequences of the recession.
Although outright racism has often been blamed as the sole cause of heavy minority teenage unemployment, it is clearly not the only factor. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, young blacks had a lower unemployment rate than did whites of the same age group. But after the minimum wage increased significantly, especially in 1961, the black youth unemployment rate has increased to the extent that in 1980s it was a multiple of the white youth unemployment rate.