For decades, business owners have resisted higher minimum wages by arguing that they destroy jobs, particularly for young people. At some theoretical level, high minimum wages will distort job creation, but the best empirical evidence from the past decade is aligned with common sense: a minimum wage drawn somewhat above the poverty line helps those who work full time to live decently, without having a significant impact on other job seekers or on total employment. (For example, a study of pairs of neighboring counties with differing minimum pay found that higher wages had no adverse effect on restaurant jobs.) Even so, a federal minimum wage of ten dollars or more will not solve inequality. It will not stop runaway executive pay or alter the winner-take-all forces at work in the global economy. Yet it will bring millions of Americans closer to the levels of economic security and disposable income that they knew before the housing bubble burst.
Now ’tis the season to be hired for temporary low-wage jobs: about half a million people will get work packing Amazon boxes, tending department-store perfume counters, and restocking toy-store shelves to earn and spend their way through the holidays. For those who are paid minimum wage, the outlook remains desultory. Bloomberg News, noting that spendable incomes at the bottom of the pay scale have hardly risen for the fourth consecutive year, reported that “low-income Americans will again have a less-merry season than affluent consumers, who are more flush thanks in part to surging stock markets.”