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What is a minimum wage?

The underlying concept of the minimum wage is to set a universal floor for the lowest rate an employer can legally pay an employee. While a single national rate is most common, some countries have different regional, industrial, occupational, or age-related minimums. Some types of workers can also be completely excluded—agricultural and domestic labor, the self-employed, and family enterprise workers are common examples.

  • The effects of minimum wages on youth employment and income

    Minimum wages reduce entry-level jobs, training, and lifetime income

    Policymakers often propose a minimum wage as a means of raising incomes and lifting workers out of poverty. However, improvements in some young workers’ incomes as a result of a minimum wage come at a cost to others. Minimum wages reduce employment opportunities for youths and create unemployment. Workers miss out on 
on-the-job training opportunities that would have been paid for by reduced wages upfront but would have resulted in higher wages later. Youths who cannot find jobs must be supported by their families or by the social welfare system. Delayed entry into the labor market reduces the lifetime income stream of young unskilled workers.
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  • Do minimum wages stimulate productivity and growth?

    Minimum wage increases fail to stimulate growth and can have a negative impact on vulnerable workers during recessions

    Joseph J. Sabia, December 2015
    Proponents of minimum wage increases have argued that such hikes can serve as an engine of economic growth and assist low-skilled individuals during downturns in the business cycle. However, a review of the literature provides little empirical support for these claims. Minimum wage increases redistribute gross domestic product away from lower-skilled industries and toward higher-skilled industries and are largely ineffective in assisting the poor during both peaks and troughs in the business cycle. Minimum wage-induced reductions in employment are found to be larger during economic recessions.
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  • How are minimum wages set?

    Countries set minimum wages in different ways, and some countries set different wages for different groups of workers

    Richard Dickens, November 2015
    The minimum wage has never been as high on the political agenda as it is today, with politicians in Germany, the UK, the US, and other OECD countries calling for substantial increases in the rate. One reason for the rising interest is the growing consensus among economists and policymakers that minimum wages, set at the right level, may help low-paid workers without harming employment prospects. But how should countries set their minimum wage rate? The processes that countries use to set their minimum wage rate and structure differ greatly, as do the methods for adjusting it. The different approaches have merits and shortcomings.
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  • Do minimum wages induce immigration?

    The minimum wage affects international migration flows and the internal relocation of immigrants

    Corrado Giulietti, May 2015
    An increase in the minimum wage in immigrant destination countries raises the earnings that low-skilled migrants could expect to attain if they were to migrate. While some studies for the US indicate that a higher minimum wage induces immigration, contrasting evidence shows that immigrants are less likely to move into areas with higher or more frequent increases in the minimum wage. These different findings seem to reflect different relocation decisions by immigrants who have lived in the US for several years, who are more likely to move in response to higher minimum wages, and by new immigrants, who are less likely to move.
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  • Who benefits from the minimum wage—natives or migrants?

    There is no evidence that increases in the minimum wage have hurt immigrants

    Madeline Zavodny, December 2014
    According to economic theory, a minimum wage reduces the number of low-wage jobs and increases the number of available workers, allowing greater hiring selectivity. More competition for a smaller number of low-wage jobs will disadvantage immigrants if employers perceive them as less skilled than native-born workers—and vice versa. Studies indicate that a higher minimum wage does not hurt immigrants, but there is no consensus on whether immigrants benefit at the expense of natives. Studies also reach disparate conclusions on whether higher minimum wages attract or repel immigrants.
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  • Do labor costs affect companies’ demand for labor?

    The effect of overtime, payroll taxes, and labor policies and costs on companies’ product output and countries’ GDP

    Higher labor costs (higher wage rates and employee benefits) make workers better off, but they can reduce companies’ profits, the number of jobs, and the hours each person works. Overtime pay, hiring subsidies, the minimum wage, and payroll taxes are just a few of the policies that affect labor costs. Policies that increase labor costs can substantially affect both employment and hours, in individual companies as well as the overall economy.
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