Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Minimum Wages

This is from the Economist, suggesting, in response to Noah Smith, that micro is not the good economics. the author offers up the minimum wage as his example.

There are three things that both me about the article.

First, the author states that if you "ask any two economists – macro, micro, whatever – whether raising the minimum wage will reduce employment for the low skilled, and odds are you will get two answers." The link is to a survey of well known economists. Click on the link. The survey asked the economists to respond to this
"Question A: Raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour would make it noticeably harder for low-skilled workers to find employment." I have seen this survey cited several times. The actual question is almost never stated. To an economist the questions are actually quite different. The economists question is about the direction of change will it reduce employment or not? The actuial question was about the size of the change will it be "noticeably harder?" To an economist that is a question about the elasticity of demand not the sloe of the demand curve. Microeconomic theory alone does not make a prediction about the size of the change, whether it will be noticeably harder. That is an empirical question. with that in mind, look at the results of the survey.  The most significant ting to note about the results is that none of the economists said that they strongly agree or strongly disagree, and about one quarter simply said they were uncertain. the rest were split between agree and disagree. In other words, when asked an empricial question which most of them had probably not conducted first hand research on, economists either replied "I don't know" or "my best guess is ...."

Second, it is not clear that this is a micro question. The survey and the Economist article seem to be talking about the aggregate amount of employment of low skilled workers. Not the employment in a particular market. I tell students the difference between micro and macro is that micro deals with particular markets and macro deals with aggregates.

Third, the time series data on the effects of the minimum wage on the employment of low skill workers (the direction of change) seems to be pretty consistent. The size of the change, whther it is noticeable, is not, however, very consistent.

Consider this graph from http://idiosyncraticwhisk.blogspot.com/2014/01/teen-employment-and-minimum-wage-60.html via Marginal Revolution

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