Are voters catching on to the minimum wage?

The minimum wage is a classic feel-good measure: who wouldn’t want relatively low-paid workers to earn a little more money? No one.

In my view, the minimum wage doesn’t do any harm as long as it is equal to or less than what employers are paying to entry-level employees in a given locality. But if you increase it beyond that point (as a $15 wage would do almost everywhere) the result is fewer employment opportunities for young people. Almost all minimum wage workers are young people trying to catch on to the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

At one time, this fact was widely understood. In the 1980s, both the New York Times and the Washington Post published editorials saying that there should be no minimum wage legislation. Why? The real minimum wage, no matter what Congress says, is zero. It is stupid to deliberately unemploy thousands, or even millions, of youths, by making it illegal to hire them at a wage commensurate with what they can do, and for which they want to work. These days, that lesson seems to have been lost.

But today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune includes a poll that I interpret as hopeful. Most Minnesotans apparently understand why the feel-good high minimum wage is a bad idea:

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 7.29.38 PM

As is happens, the $15 minimum wage won’t be on the ballot in Minneapolis, due to today’s decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court that the measure is not a proper city charter amendment (as we predicted here). But we live in a democracy, and in the end, the people’s preferences will prevail, one way or another. So it is reassuring that many Minnesotans apparently understand why it is foolish to try to legislate wealth. If we could legislate wealth, why stop at $15 per hour? That is cheap! How about a $200 an hour minimum wage? Is that a good idea? If not, why not?

While I might think these conclusions are obvious, a lot of people disagree. This is why the Center is hosting a quarterly lunch forum on the minimum wage on September 20, at the Hilton Hotel in Minneapolis. We will welcome speakers who represent multiple sides of the debate–if you favor a high minimum wage, Senator John Marty will be your spokesman. We expect a big crowd.


You can go here to register for our lunch forum, “A Dialogue on the Minimum Wage.” As always at American Experiment events, all perspectives will be treated respectfully. We hope to see you there!