Sunday, May 31, 2015

The "side impact" of aminimum wage hike

IMAGINE that all fast food restaurants (the only ones I know the numbers for — also, I never see the inside of a full-service :-)) were somehow able to conspire to raise their prices 25% all at the same time (about how much a $15 an hour minimum wage would impact fast food prices). Demand for food is inelastic so it is in the realm of possibility that fast food might make out like gang busters. Possible.

Now imagine that fast food was able to conspire at the same time to have the federal minimum wage raised to $15 except for fast food. Most industries average 10-15% labor costs and don’t pay as low as fast food to start with (fast food 33% labor costs; 25% price hike because not all at minimum) — let’s say average price hikes in other industries that use low wage labor average about 6%; not enough to heavily hurt employment.

Wage levels tend to patronize their own wage levels. Allow me to cite an example from the opposite wage end: from a 1/ll/14, NYT article “The Vicious Circle of Income Inequality” by Professor Robert H. Frank of Cornell: “… higher incomes of top earners have been shifting consumer demand in favor of goods whose value stems from the talents of other top earners. … as the rich get richer, the talented people they patronize get richer, too. Their spending, in turn, increases the incomes of other elite practitioners, and so on.”

In the double conspiracy case fast food should surely make out like a bandit because its low wage customers would benefit more from the wage hike than the food price hike would hurt them: driving business up …
… driving business up no matter who benefits from the price rise: labor or management. 

Where is all the extra dough ultimately supposed to materialize from? From higher income employees or agents who have been getting relatively more of what consumers are willing to pay — than lower wage employees in our particular economy who have been getting squeezed unmercifully below what I call their natural market value for decades (minimum wage one-third below peak, double average income later! — time to mark the minimum wage to market).

This “side impact” on fast food businesses from employees of firms that did not have to raise prices relatively as much to meet the same wage hike is probably what Card and Kruger observed in their seminal study. It is probably why business went up in the states that raised their minimum wage.

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