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Dr Michael Dunn on relationship between unemployment and minimum wage

Minimum wage policy was quite a feature on last night's TV3 leaders' debate between John Key and David Cunliffe.  Stuff reports:

The first half of the televised TV3 debate was dominated by the economy, with Key on the attack over Labour’s plan to raise the minimum wage by $2.

Key argued that small business can’t afford the hike and it will cost jobs.

Cunliffe cited US research that shows there is no relationship between a minimum wage rise and unemployment, saying this was backed by Treasury. ‘‘You can have cheap government or you can have good government,’’ he said.

Earlier in the week, we released an independent report by Dr Michael Dunn (who ran the team at IRD costing social policy for various ministers of revenue) which critiques the numbers in the Green Party's wage policy. The report is relevant to the debate:


There is now a lot of debate about the minimum wage and the expected impact of an escalation of the minimum wage on employment as well as on net Government revenues (the fiscal impact). 

Our previous analysis focussed on the fiscal impact, and showed that even without limiting employment growth, the extra revenue from income tax (and for that matter, on GST on the additional wages) would be insufficient to offset the additional cost to the Crown to fund its payroll and primary service contractors.

Impact of increasing minimum wage on employment

We are now hearing claims that “numerous studies have shown that increasing minimum wages has no adverse impact on employment levels, and may in fact lead to increased employment”.

We agree that there are numerous studies from well-respected researchers that demonstrate this to be the case, particularly in the US. However, the US is a poor choice for estimating the likely impact of increasing the minimum wage in New Zealand. The minimum wage in the US is less than 40% of the median wage, whereas in New Zealand the minimum wage is above 60% of the median wage. This means that further increases here are much more likely to affect wage relativities and the employment market in general.

There are studies that demonstrate an impact of increasing minimum wages on employment in countries where the minimum wage is above 50% of the median wage. We referred to some of these in our previous paper. We repeat that section of our paper below.



Source: US Department of Labour, September 2014

Studies that compare the employment effects of minimum wage changes in different countries

Research into the impact of increasing minimum wages on employment has identified that the effects are negligible when the minimum wage is below 35% of the average wage (as in the US), but are more significant and negative (i.e. raising the relative minimum wage reduces future employment) when the minimum wage is above 45% of the average wage (as in France and several other European countries).

So in short, Mr Cunliffe is right to say that in countries such as the United States, Japan and Korea, where the minimum wage is a small fraction of the median lifting the wage has little impact. The key question though is whether that holds true in New Zealand, France and Turkey - where minimum wages are already a much higher percentage of the median.

Dr Dunn's full paper can be downloaded here. His abridged version (just covering above) is available here.




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