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Employment and the Minimum Wage: Evidence from Recent State Labor Market Trends

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Abstract:

Congress, a number of states, and even some cities will raise or consider raising minimum wages this year. Meanwhile, the economy is suffering what may prove to be the fourth consecutive year of a geographically widespread labor market slump, with most states facing uncertain economic situations.

In this environment, the minimum wage becomes more important than ever, as a weaker labor market is unlikely to provide low wage workers the bargaining power required to negotiate fair wages for their labor. Despite the necessity of a minimum wage that allows low-wage workers to meet basic needs, there is still strong opposition to minimum wage increases, especially from those who don't view the weak labor market as an imperative to raise minimum wages, but rather as a reason to oppose them. In particular, opponents of state-level minimum wage increases claim that these increases are the cause of weak labor markets, especially in the form of high unemployment rates.

The argument that state minimum wages have had a substantially negative effect on a state's labor market is an extreme repackaging of the perennial claim that minimum wages do more harm than good because they cause many low-wage workers to lose their jobs. While this argument was once more prevalent among economists, recent studies with improved methodologies have reached the opposite conclusion. In general, there is no valid, research-based rationale for believing that state minimum wages cause measurable job losses.