In a recent paper, Jonathan Meer and Jeremy West argue that it takes time for employment to adjust in response to a minimum wage hike, making it more difficult to detect an impact by looking at employment levels. In contrast, they argue, impact is easier to discern when considering employment growth. They find that a 10 percent increase in minimum wage is associated with as much as 0.5 percentage point lower aggregate employment growth. These estimates are very large, as John Schmitt explains in a recent post, and far outside the range in the existing literature. But are they right?
As Arin Dube shows in a new paper, the short answer is: no. The negative association between job growth and minimum wages is in the wrong place: it shows up in a sector like manufacturing that has few minimum wage workers, but is absent in low-wage sectors like food services and retail. In other words, it is likely a statistical artifact, and not a causal relationship.
"Consistent with recent work by Meer and West, I find a negative association between minimum wages and state-level aggregate employment growth in both the Business Dynamics Statistics and the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data, and it is sizable for some time periods. However, I show that this negative association is present in exactly the wrong sectors. It is particularly strong in manufacturing which hires very few minimum wage workers. At the same time, there is no such association in retail, or in accommodation and food services—which together hire nearly 2/3 of all minimum wage workers. These results indicate that the negative association between minimum wages and aggregate employment growth does not represent a causal relationship. Rather the association stems from an inability to account for differences between high and low minimum wage states and the timing of minimum wage increases. Consistent with that interpretation, when I use bordering counties to construct more credible control groups, I find no such negative correlation between minimum wages and overall employment growth."