In the past three weeks, CEPR has released three short issue briefs on the minimum wage, all demonstrating in various ways that the current level is too low. In the first, CEPR Senior Economist John Schmitt makes his point rather directly with the title: "The Minimum Wage Is Too Damn Low." It shows that the minimum wage is now far below its historical level by all of the most commonly used benchmarks – inflation, average wages, and productivity.
In the second paper, John and his co-author, CEPR Research Intern Marie-Eve Augier, look at "Affording Health Care and Education on the Minimum Wage." They find that the current minimum wage looks even worse when compared with two kinds of purchases strongly associated with a middle-class standard of living or the ability to move up to the middle class: a college degree and health insurance. In 1979, a minimum-wage worker had to work 254 hours in a year to pay the cost of tuition at a public four-year college, but 923 hours in 2010. Similarly, in 1979, a minimum-wage worker had to work 329 hours to in order to pay for a family health insurance policy, but 2,079 hours in 2011.
Finally, the third paper, "Low-wage Workers Are Older and Better Educated than Ever" co-authored by John and CEPR Research Assistant Janelle Jones, makes the point that today's low-wage workers are older and better educated than in the past, and that, all else equal, older and better-educated workers earn more than younger and less-educated workers. Had the minimum wage risen in step with low-wage workers' age and educational attainment, it would be at least 9 to 14 percent higher than is suggested by simply adjusting the federal minimum's historical peak level to keep pace with inflation.
Click here for a list of all of our most recent research, including these three issue briefs on the minimum wage.