Testimony by Douglas W. Elmendorf, CBO Director, before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, United States Senate
This testimony reprises The Effects of a Minimum-Wage Increase on Employment and Family Income, a
report that CBO released in February 2014.
Increasing the minimum wage would have two principal effects on low-wage workers. Most of them would receive higher pay that would increase their family’s income, and some of those families would see their income rise above the federal poverty threshold. But some jobs for low-wage workers would probably be eliminated, the income of most workers who became jobless would fall substantially, and the share of low-wage workers who were employed would probably fall slightly.
For this analysis, CBO examined the effects on employment and family income of two options for increasing the federal minimum wage (see the figure below):
The $10.10 option would have substantially larger effects on employment and income than the $9.00 option would—because more workers would see their wages rise; the change in their wages would be greater; and, CBO expects, employment would be more responsive to a minimum-wage increase that was larger and was subsequently adjusted for inflation. The net effect of either option on the federal budget would probably be small.
Once fully implemented in the second half of 2016, the $10.10 option would reduce total employment by about 500,000 workers, or 0.3 percent, CBO projects (see the table below). As with any such estimates, however, the actual losses could be smaller or larger; in CBO’s assessment, there is about a two-thirds chance that the effect would be in the range between a very slight reduction in employment and a reduction in employment of 1.0 million workers.
Many more low-wage workers would see an increase in their earnings. Of those workers who will earn up to $10.10 under current law, most—about 16.5 million, according to CBO’s estimates—would have higher earnings during an average week in the second half of 2016 if the $10.10 option was implemented. Some of the people earning slightly more than $10.10 would also have higher earnings under that option, for reasons discussed below. Further, a few higher-wage workers would owe their jobs and increased earnings to the heightened demand for goods and services that would result from the minimum-wage increase.
The increased earnings for low-wage workers resulting from the higher minimum wage would total $31 billion, by CBO’s estimate. However, those earnings would not go only to low-income families, because many low-wage workers are not members of low-income families. Just 19 percent of the $31 billion would accrue to families with earnings below the poverty threshold, whereas 29 percent would accrue to families earning more than three times the poverty threshold, CBO estimates.
Moreover, the increased earnings for some workers would be accompanied by reductions in real (inflation-adjusted) income for the people who became jobless because of the minimum-wage increase, for business owners, and for consumers facing higher prices. CBO examined family income overall and for various income groups, reaching the following conclusions (see the figure below):
The $9.00 option would reduce employment by about 100,000 workers, or by less than 0.1 percent, CBO projects. There is about a two-thirds chance that the effect would be in the range between a very slight increase in employment and a reduction in employment of 200,000 workers, in CBO’s assessment. Roughly 7.6 million workers who will earn up to $9.00 per hour under current law would have higher earnings during an average week in the second half of 2016 if this option was implemented, CBO estimates, and some people earning more than $9.00 would have higher earnings as well.
The increased earnings for low-wage workers resulting from the higher minimum wage would total $9 billion; 22 percent of that sum would accrue to families with income below the poverty threshold, whereas 33 percent would accrue to families earning more than three times the poverty threshold, CBO estimates.
For family income overall and for various income groups, CBO estimates the following:
In addition to affecting employment and family income, increasing the federal minimum wage would affect the federal budget directly by increasing the wages that the federal government paid to a small number of hourly employees and indirectly by boosting the prices of some goods and services purchased by the government. Most of those costs would need to be covered by discretionary appropriations, which are capped through 2021 under current law.
Federal spending and taxes would also be indirectly affected by the increases in real income for some people and the reduction in real income for others. As a group, workers with increased earnings would pay more in taxes and receive less in federal benefits of certain types than they would have otherwise. However, people who became jobless because of the minimum-wage increase, business owners, and consumers facing higher prices would see a reduction in real income and would collectively pay less in taxes and receive more in federal benefits than they would have otherwise. CBO concludes that the net effect on the federal budget of raising the minimum wage would probably be a small decrease in budget deficits for several years but a small increase in budget deficits thereafter. It is unclear whether the effect for the coming decade as a whole would be a small increase or a small decrease in budget deficits.