This was a 1987 editorial in the NY Times
The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00
The idea of using a minimum wage to overcome poverty is old, honorable – and fundamentally flawed. It’s time to put this hoary debate behind us, and find a better way to improve the lives of people who work very hard for very little.
An increase in the minimum wage would restore the purchasing power of bottom-tier wages. It would also permit a minimum-wage breadwinner to earn almost enough to keep a family of three above the official poverty line. There are catches, however. It would increase employers’ incentives to evade the law, expanding the underground economy. More important, it would increase unemployment: Raise the legal minimum price of labor above the productivity of the least skilled workers and fewer will be hired.
If a higher minimum means fewer jobs, why does it remain on the agenda of some liberals? A higher minimum would undoubtedly raise the living standard of the majority of low-wage workers who could keep their jobs. That gain, it is argued, would justify the sacrifice of the minority who became unemployable. The argument isn’t convincing. Those at greatest risk from a higher minimum would be young, poor workers, who already face formidable barriers to getting and keeping jobs.
Perhaps the mistake here is to accept the limited terms of the debate. The working poor obviously deserve a better shake. But it should not surpass our ingenuity or generosity to help some of them without hurting others.
Washington could enlarge the existing earned income tax credit. This would permit better targeting, since minimum-wage workers in affluent families would not be eligible.
Training and education. The alternative to supplementing income for the least skilled workers is to raise their earning power in a free labor market. In the last two decades, dozens of programs to do that have produced mixed results at a very high cost. But the concept isn’t necessarily at fault; nurturing the potential of individuals raised in poverty is very difficult. A humane society would learn from its mistakes and keep trying.
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