The Minimum-Wage Muddle

Once upon a time there was a near consensus among economists that raising the minimum wage was a bad idea. The market is really good at setting prices on things, whether it is apples or labor. If you raise the price on a worker, employers will hire fewer and you’ll end up hurting the people you meant to help.

Then in 1993 the economists David Card and Alan Krueger looked at fast-food restaurants in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and found that raising the minimum wage gave people more income without hurting employment. A series of studies in Britain buttressed these findings.

Today, raising the minimum wage is the central piece of the progressive economic agenda. President Obama and Hillary Clinton champion it. Cities and states across the country have been moving to raise minimum wages to as high as $15 an hour —including New York State just this week. 当前，提高最低工资是进步派经济议程的核心内容。奥巴马总统和希拉里·克林顿都拥护它。全国各地的许多州和城市纷纷把最低工资提到高达每小时15美元——纽约州本周就这么干了。 Some of my Democratic friends are arguing that forcing businesses to raise their minimum wage will not only help low-wage workers; it will actually boost profits, because companies will better retain workers. Some economists have reported that there is no longer any evidence that raising wages will cost jobs. 我的一些民主党朋友争辩说，强迫企业提高最低工资不仅能帮助低薪工人，而且实际上还会增加企业利润，因为公司将能够更好地留住工人。一些经济学家还提出，现在已经没有证据表明提高工资会造成职位减少。 Unfortunately, that last claim is inaccurate. There are in fact many studies on each side of the issue. David Neumark of the University of California, Irvine and William Wascher of the Federal Reserve have done their own studies and point to dozens of others showing significant job losses. 遗憾地是，最后这一断言并不准确。实际上，这个问题的研究结果正反两方都有很多。加州大学尔湾分校的David Neumark和美联储的William Wascher也对此做了研究，并举出了其他数十项研究，表明（提高最低工资会带来）严重的岗位流失。 Recently, Michael Wither and Jeffrey Clemens of the University of California, San Diego looked at data from the 2007 federal minimum-wage hike and found that it reduced the national employment-to-population ratio by 0.7 percentage points (which is actually a lot), and led to a six percentage point decrease in the likelihood that a low-wage worker would have a job. 最近，加州大学圣迭戈分校的Michael Wither 和Jeffrey Clemens检视了2007年联邦最低工资上涨的数据，发现这一上涨使得全国适龄劳动人口就业率下降了0.7个百分点（这一下降幅度其实已经很大了），并使得低薪工人找到工作的可能性下降了6个百分点。 Because low-wage workers get less work experience under a higher minimum-wage regime, they are less likely to transition to higher-wage jobs down the road. Wither and Clemens found that two years later, workers’chances of making$1,500 a month was reduced by five percentage points.

Many economists have pointed out that as a poverty-fighting measure the minimum wage is horribly targeted. A 2010 study by Joseph Sabia and Richard Burkhauser found that only 11.3 percent of workers who would benefit from raising the wage to $9.50 an hour would come from poor households. An earlier study by Sabia found that single mothers’employment dropped 6 percent for every 10 percent increase in the minimum wage. 很多经济学家已经指出，作为一项扶贫措施，最低工资简直是南辕北辙。Joseph Sabia和Richard Burkhauser于2010年所做的一项研究发现，最低工资提升至时薪9.5美元时，受益者中只有11.3%来自贫困家庭。Sabia更早的一项研究则发现，最低工资每提升10%，单身母亲的就业率就下降6%。 A study by Thomas MaCurdy of Stanford built on the fact that there are as many individuals in high-income families making the minimum wage (teenagers) as in low-income families. 斯坦福大学Thomas MaCurdy的一项研究基于这样一个事实：就赚取最低工资而言，来自高收入家庭的个体（青少年）和来自低收入家庭的一样多。 MaCurdy found that the costs of raising the wage are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. Minimum-wage workers often work at places that disproportionately serve people down the income scale. So raising the minimum wage is like a regressive consumption tax paid for by the poor to subsidize the wages of workers who are often middle class. MaCurdy还发现，提高工资带来的成本，会以加价的形式转嫁到消费者头上。由于拿最低工资的工人其服务对象大都处于收入底层，所以提高最低工资就像是征收了一种按收入递减的消费税，由穷人来补贴那些时常来自中产阶级的工人的工资。 What we have, in sum, is a very complicated situation. If we do raise the minimum wage a lot of people will clearly benefit and a lot of people will clearly be hurt. The most objective and broadest bits of evidence provoke ambivalence. 总之，我们面对的是一个非常复杂的情况。如果我们提高最低工资，很多人明显会受益，也有很多人明显会受损。最广泛且客观的证据引致了相互矛盾的观点。 One survey of economists by the University of Chicago found that 59 percent believed that a rise to$9 an hour would make it “noticeably harder”for poor people to find work. But a slight majority also thought the hike would be worthwhile for those in jobs.

A study by the Congressional Budget Office found that a hike to $10.10 might lift 900,000 out of poverty but cost roughly 500,000 jobs. 国会预算办公室的一项研究发现，时薪上涨到10.10美元可能会使90万人脱贫，但代价是牺牲大约50万个工作岗位。 My own guess is the economists will never be able to give us a dispositive answer about who is hurt or helped. Economists have their biases and reality is too granular. It depends on what region a worker is in, whether a particular job can be easily done by a machine, what the mind-set of his or her employer is. 我自己的猜测是，经济学家永远不可能给我们一个最终定论，告诉我们谁受损谁受益。经济学家有其偏见，而现实则纷繁复杂。结果取决于工人的工作所在地，其工作是否容易被机器取代，其雇主的思想观念如何。 The best reasonable guess is that a gradual hike in high-cost cities like Seattle or New York will probably not produce massive dislocation. But raising the wage to$15 in rural New York will cause large disruptions and job losses.

The key intellectual upshot is that, despite what some people want you to believe, the laws of economic gravity have not been suspended. You can’t impose costs on some without trade-offs for others. You can’t intervene in the market without unintended consequences.

And here’s a haunting fact that seems to make sense: Raising the minimum wage will produce winners among job holders from all backgrounds, but it will disproportionately punish those with the lowest skills, who are least likely to be able to justify higher employment costs.