John Cassidy tidies up the arguments on both sides of whether to raise the minimum wage. Let's just cut to the two issues that seem to be of greatest concern: what raising the minimum does to employment, and what's the bottom line when we're talking about a wage raise in the US.
For starters, the other countries that have a minimum wage at the same level as ours -- no higher than ours -- are nations that are suffering from economic decline. Really. Recovering and recovered countries have set their minimum at levels up to $11.
A second important and (largely) undisputed finding is that there is no obvious link between the minimum wage and the unemployment rate. During the nineteen sixties, when the minimum wage was raised sharply, unemployment rates were sharply lower than they were in the nineteen eighties, when the real value of the minimum wage fell dramatically. If you look across the states, some of which set a minimum wage above the federal minimum, you can’t see any sign of higher rates leading to higher unemployment. In Nevada, where the national minimum of $7.25 an hour applies, the jobless rate is 10.2 per cent. In Vermont, where the minimum wage is $8.60 an hour, the unemployment rate is 5.1 per cent. What these figures tell us is that other factors, such as the overall state of the economy and how local industries are doing, matter a lot more for employment than the level of the minimum wage does. ...Cassidy, New Yorker
Cassidy does his job. He goes looking for links between high minimum wage and an increase in unemployment and finds, well, not much. "For whatever reason, minimum-wage laws just don’t seem to affect employment very much. This finding applies not just to studies carried out in the United States but to those done in the United Kingdom, Australia, and other countries, too."
The argument for raising the minimum wage has plenty of support. The benefits are substantial, all the way around. I don't believe Republicans of this generation want to hear about how much better it is for workers, for their employers, and for the country as a whole. They seem to be disgusted by even the suggestion of doing anything for the sake of anyone... outside of the top 10%. The rest of us are here just to keep the lawns cut and the military stocked with our kids.
Still, it's worth adding Cassidy's conclusions, even though the people who ought to be paying attention are busy pasting together creaky arguments in favor of extreme self-interest and the destruction of democratic process.
After decades of wage stagnation, virtually everybody agrees that increasing the incomes of middle-class families is a top priority. Putting a higher floor under wages won’t solve the problem, but it can be part of the process of transitioning to a high-wage, high-productivity economy. When workers are paid more, they tend to work harder, and quit less readily. Firms, knowing they can’t simply rely on low wages, have an incentive to invest in new equipment and training programs. All of these things can boost productivity, which is the lynchpin of prosperity.
Finally, there is the moral issue. (Prior to the twentieth century, economics was considered a “moral science.”) With the decline of trade unions and the spread of aggressive management techniques, low-paid workers now have little bargaining power and few legal protections. Only the government can ensure that they receive a living wage. ...Cassidy, New Yorker