Democrats are setting up to deliver a one-two punch to America’s middle class and the poor. Here the Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner unfolds the plan. It’s a sad one to be sure.
Both the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress have announced that their top priority when Congress returns later this month will be extending unemployment benefits and raising the minimum wage. Both policies are likely to leave more Americans jobless — especially low-income workers with few skills, the very people Democrats claim they want to help most.
Take the extension of unemployment insurance. Labor economists may disagree on the extent to which unemployment benefits increase or extend spells of unemployment, but the fact that they increase the duration of unemployment and/or unemployment levels is not especially controversial. As Martin Feldstein and Daniel Altman have pointed out, “the most obvious and most thoroughly researched effect of the existing UI systems on unemployment is the increase in the duration of the unemployment spells.”
The second part of this one-two punch against employment is an increase in the minimum wage. Again, the overwhelming consensus among economists is that an increase in the minimum wage reduces available employment. In fairness, that consensus is not unanimous: Some studies, notably one by Princeton’s Alan Krueger and Berkeley’s David Card, suggest that at least small increases in the minimum wage have little or no impact on employment. But other economists have criticized the methodology of that study, and a comprehensive review of more than 100 papers on the minimum wage, by David Neumark and William Wascher for the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that 85 percent of them showed negative employment effects.