“Do Minimum Wages Help the Poor?” by David NEUMARK
Michigan State University
The primary goal of a national minimum wage floor is to raise the incomes of poor or near-poor families with members in the work force. However, estimates of employment effects of minimum wages tell us relatively little about whether minimum wages are likely to achieve this goal; even if the disemployment effects of minimum wages are modest, minimum wage increases could result in net income losses for poor and low-income families. In this paper, we present evidence on the effects of minimum wages on family incomes from matched March CPS surveys. Using non-parametric estimates of the distributions of family income relative to needs in states and years with and without minimum wage increases, we examine the effects of minimum wages on this distribution, and on the distribution of the changes in income that families experience. Although minimum wages do increase the incomes of some poor families, the evidence indicates that the overall effects are to increase the proportion of families that are poor and near-poor, and to decrease the proportion of families with incomes between 1.5 and 3 times the poverty level.