The Effects on Employment and Family Income of Increasing the Federal Minimum Wage
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour for most workers. In this report, CBO examines how increasing the federal minimum wage to $10, $12, or $15 per hour by 2025 would affect employment and family income.
The federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has not changed since 2009, though many states and localities have set their minimum wage above that level. Increasing the federal minimum wage would have two principal effects on low-wage workers. For most low-wage workers, earnings and family income would increase, which would lift some families out of poverty. But other low-wage workers would become jobless, and their family income would fall—in some cases, below the poverty threshold.
What Options for Increasing the Federal Minimum Wage Did CBO Examine?
CBO examined three options for increasing the federal minimum wage.
The first option would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour as of January 1, 2025. That increase would be implemented in six annual increments starting on January 1, 2020. After reaching $15 in 2025, the minimum wage would be indexed, or tied, to median hourly wages. The $15 option would also gradually eliminate exceptions to the minimum wage for tipped workers, teenage workers, and disabled workers.
The second option would raise the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour as of January 1, 2025. The $12 option would be implemented on the same timeline as the $15 option but would not index the minimum wage to wage growth after 2025. It would leave in place current exceptions.
The third option would raise the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour as of January 1, 2025. The $10 option would be implemented on the same timeline as the $15 and $12 options. Like the $12 option, it would not index the minimum wage to wage growth and would leave in place current exceptions.
What Effects Would the Options Have?
Of the three options, the $15 option would have the largest effects on employment and family income (see figure below). That is because it would increase wages for the most workers, because it would impose the largest increases in wages, and because, in CBO’s estimation, employment is more responsive to relatively large wage increases and increases that will be adjusted for future wage growth. The $12 option would have smaller effects, and the effects of the $10 option would be smaller still.
There is considerable uncertainty about the size of any option’s effect on employment. CBO’s estimates are based on the median values of likely ranges for wage growth and the responsiveness of employment to changes in wages. In particular, the likely ranges for the responsiveness parameter are not symmetric: That value has an equal chance of being smaller or larger than the median, but if it is larger, it could be substantially larger.
Effects of the $15 Option on Employment and Income. According to CBO’s median estimate, under the $15 option, 1.3 million workers who would otherwise be employed would be jobless in an average week in 2025. (That would equal a 0.8 percent reduction in the number of employed workers.) CBO estimates that there is about a two-thirds chance that the change in employment would lie between about zero and a reduction of 3.7 million workers (see table below).
|Effects of Increases in the Federal Minimum Wage on Employment, Income, and Poverty, 2025|
|Change in Employment in an Average Week (Millions of workers)|
|Number of Workers Who Would See Increases in Their Earnings in an Average Week (Millions)|
|Directly Affected Workers||17.0||5.0||1.5|
|Potentially affected workers||10.3||6.4||1.9|
|Change in Real Annual Income|
|Families with income below the poverty threshold|
|Billions of 2018 dollars||7.7||2.3||0.4|
|Families with income between one and three times the poverty threshold|
|Billions of 2018 dollars||14.2||2.3||0.3|
|Families with income between three and six times the poverty threshold|
|Billions of 2018 dollars||-2.1||-0.3||***|
|Families with income more than six times the poverty threshold|
|Billions of 2018 dollars||-28.4||-5.1||-0.6|
|Billions of 2018 dollars||-8.7||-0.8||-0.1|
|Change in the Number of People in Poverty (Millions)||-1.3||-0.4||*|
|* = between −0.05 million and 0.05 million; ** = between −0.05 percent and 0.05 percent; *** = between −0.05 billion and 0.05 billion.|
In addition, in an average week in 2025, the $15 option would increase the wages of 17 million workers whose wages would otherwise be below $15 per hour, CBO estimates. The wages of many of the 10 million workers whose wages would be slightly above the new federal minimum would also increase.
The $15 option would affect family income in a variety of ways. In CBO’s estimation, it would:
- Boost workers’ earnings through higher wages, though some of those higher earnings would be offset by higher rates of joblessness;
- Reduce business income and raise prices as higher labor costs were absorbed by business owners and then passed on to consumers; and
- Reduce the nation’s output slightly through the reduction in employment and a corresponding decline in the nation’s stock of capital (such as buildings, machines, and technologies).
On the basis of those effects and CBO’s estimate of the median effect on employment, the $15 option would reduce total real (inflation-adjusted) family income in 2025 by $9 billion, or 0.1 percent.
The effects of those income changes would vary across families. Changes in earnings would mainly affect low-income families, but many higher-income families would be affected, too. The loss in business income would be mostly borne by families well above the poverty line. All consumers would pay higher prices, but higher-income families, who spend more, would pay more of those costs. And the cost of effects on the overall economy would generally accrue to families in proportion to their income, which means they would largely be absorbed by families with income well above the poverty threshold.
Taking those effects into account, CBO estimates that families whose income would be below the poverty threshold under current law would receive an additional $8 billion in real family income in 2025 under this option. That would amount to a 5.3 percent increase in income, on average, for such families. That extra income would move, on net, roughly 1.3 million people out of poverty. Real income would fall by about $16 billion for families above the poverty line; that would reduce their total income by about 0.1 percent.
Effects of the $12 Option on Employment and Income. Under the $12 option, according to CBO’s median estimate, about 0.3 million workers who would otherwise be employed would be jobless in an average week in 2025. (In percentage terms, the number of employed workers would fall by about 0.2 percent.) There is a two-thirds chance that the change in employment would lie between about zero and a reduction of 0.8 million workers, in CBO’s assessment. However, in an average week in 2025, the increase in the federal minimum wage would boost the wages of 5 million workers who would otherwise earn less than $12 per hour, CBO estimates. Wages would also increase for many of the 6 million workers who would otherwise earn just above $12 per hour.
Like the $15 option, this option would boost wages, but it would also increase joblessness, reduce business income, raise prices, and lower total output in the economy. On balance, real family income in 2025 would fall by $1 billion, or less than 0.05 percent. The effects of those changes would again vary across families. CBO estimated that families with income below the poverty threshold under current law would receive $2.3 billion in additional real income under the option. The option would move, on net, about 0.4 million people out of poverty. Families above the poverty line would receive about $3 billion less in real income, a very small share of their total income.
Effects of the $10 Option on Employment and Income. According to CBO’s median estimate, the $10 option would have virtually no effect on employment in an average week in 2025. There is a two-thirds chance that the effect on employment would lie between about zero and a decrease of 0.1 million workers. In an average week in 2025, wages for 1.5 million workers who would otherwise be paid less than $10 per hour would increase, CBO estimates. Wages would also increase for many of the 2 million additional workers who would otherwise earn slightly more than $10 per hour in 2025.
Real annual family income would again be affected by changes in earnings, business income, and prices. On balance, the $10 option would reduce real family income in 2025 by $0.1 billion, a very small percentage. CBO estimates that real income would increase, on net, by $0.4 billion for families whose income would otherwise be below the poverty threshold. Families with higher incomes would see very small changes to their real income. The option would also have a small effect on the number of people in poverty.
Other Effects. Numerous studies have examined the link between minimum wages and a range of outcomes other than employment and family income. Those include labor force outcomes such as labor force participation (whether a person is working or actively seeking a job); health outcomes such as depression, suicide, and obesity; education outcomes such as school completion and job training; and social outcomes such as crime. CBO did not examine those other possible outcomes in this analysis.
CBO also did not estimate how any of the three options would affect the federal budget. However, the agency previously estimated how proposed changes to the minimum wage under the Raise the Wage Act (H.R. 582) would affect the federal budget by boosting the pay of certain federal employees. The policy analyzed in that estimate is very similar to the $15 option in this report.
Why Are the Outcomes Uncertain?
There are two main reasons why CBO’s median estimates of the effects of increases in the minimum wage on employment are uncertain. First, future wage growth under current law is uncertain. If wages grow faster than CBO projects, then wages in 2025 will be higher under current law than CBO anticipates. In that case, increases in the federal minimum wage would have smaller effects on employment than CBO expects. If wages grow more slowly than CBO projects, the options would have larger effects on employment than CBO expects.
Second, there is considerable uncertainty about the responsiveness of employment to an increase in the minimum wage. If employment is more responsive than CBO expects, then increases in the minimum wage would lead to larger declines in employment. By contrast, if employment is less responsive than CBO expects, then such increases would lead to smaller declines in employment. Findings in the research literature about how changes in the federal minimum wage affect employment vary widely. Many studies have found little or no effect of minimum wages on employment, but many others have found substantial reductions in employment.