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Minimum Wages (MIT Press) Paperback – August 13, 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Beyond covering previously sparse treatments of issues such as effects on prices, inflation, profits, and inequality, Neumark and Wascher demonstrate the overwhelming weight and detrimental effects of minimum wages on low-skilled workers. The volume is a must for anyone interested in research on labor markets.

(Daniel Hamermesh, Centennial Professor of Economics, University of Texas at Austin)

Over the past 20 years, the focus of research on the minimum wage has changed from federal to state minimum wages as the key policy variable, and from effects on teen employment to a broader range of outcomes. David Neumark and William Wascher have been important contributors to these innovations. Minimum Wages combines a very accessible summary of their research with helpful discussions of others' work.

(Charles Brown, Professor of Economics, University of Michigan)

This is a superb book, notable for both breadth and depth of coverage, on one of the most fundamental topics in economics...Summing Up: Essential. Economics collections, upper-division undergraduate through professional.

(Choice)

About the Author

William L. Wascher is Senior Associate Director in the Division of Research and Statistics at the Federal Reserve Board.

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Product Details

  • Series: MIT Press
  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Reprint edition (August 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262515083
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262515085
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #908,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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This excellent book surveys virtually all of the published research on the minimum wage since1938. Parts of it will be pretty heavy sledding for those of us not trained in econometrics, because it’s littered with mathematical formulas that not one person in a thousand could understand. However, the authors do a good job of explaining their science, methodologies and conclusions in words as well. A listing of the chapters shows the questions being addressed:

1 Introduction.
2 The History of the Minimum Wage in the United States.
3 The Effects of Minimum Wages on Employment.
4 Minimum Wage Effects on the Distribution of Wages and Earnings.
5 The Effects of Minimum Wages on the Distribution of Incomes.
6 The Effects of Minimum Wages on Skills.
7 The Effects of Minimum Wages on Prices and Profits.
8 The Political Economy of Minimum Wages.
9 Summary and Conclusions.

The most obvious question is, if we don’t like the authors’ conclusions, why should we believe them? Well, it seems that the impact of Minimum Wages has been heavily studied since its inception, and while the authors describe their own research, they also rigorously present the research and conclusions of others. In fact, the extensive coverage of existing literature is one of the reasons this book is challenging. The list of references alone is about 24 pages with over 400 separate citations.

Another obvious question is whether it’s even possible to figure out the effects of a change in the minimum wage. After all, many things affect the labor market, so how can we isolate out the effects of a change in just one variable? For example, in July 2007, just as the U.S. economy was beginning to tank, the federal minimum wage was increased 13.6% from $5.15 to $5.85.
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Format: Paperback
Neumark and Wascher present the most comprehensive overview of minimum wage research currently available. The book begins with a theoretical and historical summary of the minimum wage. They then discuss the "old" and "new" minimum wage research. They finish their work with an exploration into periphery topics (like human capital and political economy.) This book does not contain original research. It is a compilation of relevant academic papers over the past 80 years.

The minimum wage is the second most studied aspect of labor economics. The authors compile the 100 most important academic papers on the subject and reveal the results to the reader. They offer relevant graphs and regressions when necessary. When necessary they comment on the validity of particular papers using opposing academic papers. Neumark and Wascher try to make past research accessible to a general audience while still being directed at academics.

The problem with Minimum Wages is the rather obvious bias of the researchers. They have studied the minimum wage for 30 years. About 15 years ago Myth and Measurement seriously questioned their research. Card and Krueger even singled out two of their studies in showing statistical errors. Nuemark and Wascher conceded on some points of interest but never agreed with Card and Krueger's analysis. The entire book feels like one long rebuttal to Myth and Measurement. Nevertheless, the authors do remain fairly objective. They never misinterpret the research of opposing economists (though they do try to quickly refute key points.)

Minimum Wages is an excellent starting point for minimum wage research. However, I would suggest reading Myth and Measurement first.
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Format: Paperback
Minimum wage laws have existed now for over 100 years and will likely continue to exist for the foreseeable future, the evidence be damned. Such laws have considerable emotional appeal, but according to Neumark and Wascher, they actually do a lot of harm to the people they are intended to benefit. Politicians are able to score points with their constituents by advocating minimum wages, which is a real shame, since, as the authors state in their conclusion, "Minimum wages do not deliver on their goal of improving the lives of low-wage workers, low-skill individuals, and low-income families." You can't get any blunter than that.

Of course, a deeper analysis of why minimum wages are necessary in the first place was beyond the scope of the book. Like all of us, low-wage, low-skill workers suffer from the ravages of inflation, but as long as the root cause of inflation (expansion of the money supply by the central bank) is never addressed, those who suffer most from inflation, that is, the poor and unskilled workers, will have to be helped somehow.

However, I understand it wasn't the authors' intention to look at the issue from that perspective, so I give the book high marks. I can't imagine a deeper treatment of the subject without being too specialized. Like another reviewer mentioned, some knowledge of economics would definitely help, but that seemed unavoidable. I highly recommend this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Minimum Wages brings badly needed clarity to the minimum wage issue. Proponents of minimum wage laws/increases mean well, they want to help the poor. However, straightforward economic theory indicates that minimum wages increase unemployment among low productivity workers, and can decrease the incomes of impoverished households.

Neumark and Wascher have examined the data and there is little evidence that minimum wages laws deliver their intended results. One of the most interesting findings of this book is that minimum wage laws can adversely affect long run wages and earnings. Long run effects often get left out of debates over minimum wages, so their inclusion in this book is important.

Neumark and Wascher have made an important contribution with this book. All those interested in the minimum wage issue should start by reading this book.
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