Benefiting Low-Wage Workers without Minimum Wage Laws

Benefiting Low-Wage Workers without Minimum Wage Laws

Benefiting Low-Wage Workers without Minimum Wage Laws

3 female waitresses

Strategies to help everyone

If it is a bad idea to raise the minimum wage, or even have a minimum wage law to begin with, where does this leave the low-wage worker?

We already examined the empirical evidence showing that minimum wage laws reduce employment among the groups the laws are intended to help. (If you missed it, check out my blog.)

We also looked at the negative impact on small business—that most important job-creation engine. (Check out this blog.)

Now we want to know what we can do to help low wage workers. 

A job is better than no job 

True. Some workers earning a minimum wage will find themselves better off with a law that increases their pay. However, millions others will be hurt. Some are harmed because their hours might be reduced. Worse, many others will not be able to find a job or lose their job. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted this number will be 1.4 million people if the federal $15 minimum wage proposal becomes law. 

If you cannot find a job or lose your job, you are not better off. This is especially true for workers starting out in the labor force. They learn things on the job that they cannot learn in a classroom or at home. 

They learn the all-important soft skills required to function in the workplace, such as getting along with coworkers, meeting expectations, and showing up on time prepared for work.

Importantly, they also begin building their net worth. At a minimum, they do this by putting away for their future with contributions—matched by their employer—to Social Security and Medicare. 

No minimum wage law does not mean no standard

The minimum wage is an arbitrary number with little meaningful relationship to the particulars of a specific job. The United States has nearly 6 million business firms with 7.9 million establishments in thousands of industries in over 3,000 counties, according to the Economic Census. Each has its own characteristics in terms of expectations, skills, and pay.

One of my first jobs was in a machine shop. I still recall how the employer misrepresented the minimum wage when he hired me. He tried passing it off as a pay level sanctioned by the federal government. I did not buy it and was offered higher pay. Later I learned others in the shop fell for his ruse—and were receiving just the minimum wage. 

If we would eliminate the minimum wage law, then low-wage workers would look to other standards reflective of the job and industry. 

Think of Kelley Blue Book that helps consumers know the value of a car. There are also companies—like PayScale—helping job seekers know what to expect in terms of pay.  Moreover, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts 12 surveys on pay and benefits—including wage data for over 800 occupations by area—that can be used as guidance. 

It would be better for workers to have knowledge about pay scales based on real factors than rely on arbitrary and artificial standards set by government law.  

The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.

Career ladders and skill sets

The Georgia Center for Opportunity works with community groups helping job seekers link with employers. Setting career goals, understanding the skill requirements of various occupations, and having realistic expectations of pay are all important components of putting together a plan to help job seekers grow in their career and compensation.

These plans are what will help them the most if they are stuck in a minimum wage job. It gives them a plan of action on how to meet their goals. It also helps employers who often complain they can’t find good help with the skill sets they really need. This solution involves working with individuals on a one-on-one basis. 

It also takes time—there is no magic button to push. However, in the end, it will be a win-win situation for both workers and employers. Raising the minimum wage is a win-lose situation—some people will win, but many others, including the overall economy, will lose.

Understanding the needs of employers in the labor market also requires us to do a better job at education in preparing our children for their future. As research has shown, giving parents more choices improves the quality of education—and will ultimately benefit our children and society. 

We need to stop coming up with solutions that help some people at the expense of others. It makes little sense to damage the entrance ramp to employment in order to increase the pay for just some workers. Or for the government to have an inflation policy that hurts the poor the most, which I pointed out in this blog

Instead, let’s focus our attention on solutions that help everyone. If you have comments, especially on what are the best solutions, we would love to hear from you. Be sure to post them in the comments.

 

*Erik Randolph is Director of Research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. This blog reflects his opinion and not necessarily that of the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

 

Why the Minimum Wage is Bad News for Small Business

Why the Minimum Wage is Bad News for Small Business

Why the Minimum Wage is Bad News for Small Business

payday

Why that’s bad for everyone else, and how raising costs can have disastrous economic consequences.

In a prior blog, I explained how empirical research supports the side of the debate asserting negative consequences due to minimum wage laws. Now we’ll look under the hood to understand more why this might be the case.

After the stock market crash of 1929—yes, I’m taking you back that far—President Herbert Hoover rolled into action to get the U.S. economy out of the recession that would become the Great Depression. Among his activities were efforts to boost prices and wages, including White House conferences to cajole business leaders to maintain wage rates. 

His successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, went further to promote higher prices and wages, especially with the Wagner Act intended to strengthen labor unions and the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) that established a system of industry cartels that regulated, among other things, wages and prices. 

In 1935, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the NIRA. In response, the minimum wage became a platform issue for his 1936 reelection campaign, and FDR succeeded in getting a federal minimum wage of 25¢ per hour in 1938.

Economists seemingly agree on little, but one thing they do agree on is that the policies of Hoover and Roosevelt did nothing to get the U.S. out of the Great Depression. Keep this history in mind when you hear advocates who want to raise the minimum wage. 

Importance of small business

Small businesses are at the heart of the American economy. They are a major engine of prosperity and job growth, enriching society and helping to spread wealth at a time when economic disparities are receiving more attention. 

Examples of small businesses are too many to list but include your local restaurant, hair salon, construction firm, dentist, bakery, and small-town law firm. It also includes many franchisees who may own your local McDonald’s, Subway, UPS store, hardware store, senior home care service, or handyman service. 

 

worker and coin stacks

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration

  • There were 31.7 million small businesses in the U.S. in 2017.
  • They employed 60.6 million people, or 47.1 percent of the private workforce in 2018. 
  • That number included 4.2 million self-employed persons of color.

Small businesses created 1.6 million net jobs in 2019.

Not all about profits

Also according to the Small Business Administration, there were 249,000 business start-ups creating 863,000 new jobs in 2018. However, those gains were partially offset by 222,000 businesses shutting down, taking 762,000 jobs with them. 

This comparison is a good way of exposing a common myth about economics: It is not all about profits. It is also about losses. 

If you took an economics course in college or high school, you probably found yourself spending time looking at the impact of losses and how much a business can lose before it must shut down.

What it takes to run a small business 

Running a small business is hard. It requires dedication, resources, and daily decisions to keep operations viable without the benefit of an array of professional managers and departments that large businesses typically have. When a small business owner makes a mistake, he takes a direct hit. If the mistake is large enough, it could threaten his or her livelihood.

Politicians, on the other hand, can make a policy mistake impacting business, but they do not take a direct hit. Because every business is different, it is impossible for politicians to know what it takes for every type of business to stay viable and make a profit. Yet changes in government regulations, taxes, and wage laws can have devastating impacts on businesses.

The ability of businesses to withstand changes in minimum wage laws depends on the circumstances of the business and their profitability. It is naive to assume that every business relying on low-cost labor would be able to pay its employees more just because the government mandates them to do so. 

Many businesses operate on thin profit margins. If their costs go up, they may substitute technology for labor, if they can, which naturally and unfortunately results in workers losing their jobs. 

Worse, the business may have to shut down. It makes no sense to expect businesses to continue operating if they are losing money. Many small business owners who shut down may need to find a job themselves or risk landing in poverty. This helps no one, least of all the laid-off employees.

Final warnings

Beware of large corporations like Amazon or Walmart who might support minimum wage laws. It could be because they see it as a way to drive out competition from small mom and pop businesses.

Forcing small businesses to raise wages, especially after they sustained a financial hit from a pandemic, only promises to weaken an all-important job growth engine for the U.S. economy at a time when we need to bolster the small business sector and get the economy rolling again. This strategy of mandating wage increases certainly did not work out well during the Great Depression. There is no good reason to think it will work now.

So, what do our state and national legislators need to be doing? They need to concentrate on getting the economic job engine revving up again, and this is done by finding ways to reduce costs for businesses (not raising them), making it easier for entrepreneurs to start their own businesses (not making it harder), and making sure the financial markets are working properly so small businesses can access much-needed funds.

Where does all this leave the worker stuck in a low-wage job? Stay tuned. I’ll answer that question in my next blog. 

 

*Erik Randolph is Director of Research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. This blog reflects his opinion and not necessarily that of the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

 

Clock ticks as feds threaten to remove work requirement from Georgia’s partial Medicaid expansion | HENRY HERALD

Clock ticks as feds threaten to remove work requirement from Georgia’s partial Medicaid expansion | HENRY HERALD

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) could decide in a matter of weeks whether it will remove the work or activity requirement in Georgia’s partial Medicaid expansion plan.

The CMS said the plan, which was approved by former President Donald Trump’s administration in October, does not “promote the objectives of the Medicaid program” and would be impossible to accomplish because of the COVID-19 pandemic…

In a statement released Friday, the nonprofit Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) said CMS’ decision could lead to court battles, leaving the thousands of Georgians who stand to get coverage under the program in a lurch.

“Instead of using our resources and time to bicker before the courts, we should apply them to seek out the best ways to improve people’s lives,” said Erik Randolph, GCO’s director of research. “[Georgia Pathways] is based on the idea of helping adults escape poverty, plain and simple. It will propel them into situations where they have better opportunities and more resources for health coverage, such as through affordable individual markets or employed-based coverage.”

Clock ticks as feds threaten to remove work requirement from Georgia’s partial Medicaid expansion | CENTER SQUARE

Clock ticks as feds threaten to remove work requirement from Georgia’s partial Medicaid expansion | CENTER SQUARE

Clock ticks as feds threaten to remove work requirement from Georgia’s partial Medicaid expansion | CENTER SQUARE

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) could decide in a matter of weeks whether it will remove the work or activity requirement in Georgia’s partial Medicaid expansion plan.

The CMS said the plan, which was approved by former President Donald Trump’s administration in October, does not “promote the objectives of the Medicaid program” and would be impossible to accomplish because of the COVID-19 pandemic…

In a statement released Friday, the nonprofit Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) said CMS’ decision could lead to court battles, leaving the thousands of Georgians who stand to get coverage under the program in a lurch.

“Instead of using our resources and time to bicker before the courts, we should apply them to seek out the best ways to improve people’s lives,” said Erik Randolph, GCO’s director of research. “[Georgia Pathways] is based on the idea of helping adults escape poverty, plain and simple. It will propel them into situations where they have better opportunities and more resources for health coverage, such as through affordable individual markets or employed-based coverage.”

Let’s Take Politics Out of Healthcare

Let’s Take Politics Out of Healthcare

Let’s Take Politics Out of Healthcare

healthcare politics

The federal government’s surprise move against Georgia

In a raw political move, the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) removed the approval of Georgia’s Pathways to Coverage, labeling the program as “pending.” 

Despite the fact that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is consuming the resources and attention of the Governor’s office and the Department of Community Health, CMS gave Georgia only 30 days to respond before the federal government might eviscerate the program. In its February 12 letter, CMS targeted the program’s work or other community engagement components and also threatened “review” of other provisions of the program. 

This move by the new administration in Washington, D.C., appears to be unprecedented. Finally secured last fall, the approval was part of an administrative process, which included time for public comments, that took years to develop. 

Pathways to Coverage serves non-disabled adults below the poverty line. It is a critical component of Georgia’s plan to reduce the number of uninsured and make healthcare coverage more affordable, without sacrificing quality of care or causing other serious drawbacks associated with a traditional Medicaid expansion. It is based on the idea of not keeping these adults below the poverty line but moving them above it. 

The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.

Let’s focus on helping people instead

Pathways to Coverage is really about helping people. Readers might want to check out my prior blog on this program as well as some of our published research on fixing the healthcare system.

The so-called Affordable Care Act (ACA) has caused havoc for Georgians when it comes to healthcare coverage and costs. The rate of healthcare price increases did not abate but accelerated. As we reported before, our own data analysis confirmed other research by showing that for individual markets, “Georgians suffered average price increases of 70.7% for Bronze plans, 77.3% for Silver plans, and 70.4% for Gold plans” over five years.

We also found that prior to the ACA, the median cost for a health insurance plan on the individual market for a family of four was $5,386 per year. But within six years, the cost varied from $17,550 to $26,081, depending on the level of the plan. 

The bulk of Georgia’s uninsured problem lies not below the poverty line, but above it. Therefore, Pathways to Coverage necessarily links to Georgia’s Reinsurance Program designed to drive down costs in the individual markets. The test of the demonstration project will be to see how well Georgia can move people out of poverty into situations where they have better opportunities and more resources for health coverage, such as coverage through affordable individual markets or, better yet, employer-based coverage. 

America has one of the world’s best and most innovative healthcare systems, if you have insurance to afford it. By far, employer-based and private insurance provides the best coverage. Medicaid has among the worst healthcare outcomes, can trap families in poverty (as we and others have demonstrated), and can be an obstacle in moving to the much-better private coverage. Incentivizing people to improve their circumstances is an important strategy that this demonstration project hopes to prove. 

The Spirit of the Law

The new administration in Washington might feel like they are doing the right thing by attempting to strongarm states like Georgia into Medicaid expansion. However, this action raises concerns. 

First, the question of whether the federal government can mandate states to expand Medicaid was already settled in the negative by a seven-to-two U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Second, removing a critical component of this demonstration project will not likely accomplish expansion but, if followed through, will compromise the effectiveness of the project. Third, it goes against the whole purpose of demonstration projects. 

Pathways to Coverage is an approved—and hopefully remains so—Section 1115 waiver to Medicaid rules, which is found in the Social Security Act. In enacting this section of the law, Congress acknowledged that a one-size-fits-all approach dictated by the federal government is not always the best way to solve our public policy challenges. 

Congress acknowledged this principle again when it enacted Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act that allows states to come up with alternative plans in coordination with Section 1115 waivers. Georgia took advantage of both these provisions of law in developing its healthcare strategy. 

Finally, demonstration projects allow states to experiment with what works best. Without experimentation, we hinder our ability to discover better ways to run public programs for the benefit of people. 

What’s next

The best overall resolution would be for CMS to reinstate the approval and allow the demonstration to move forward. CMS will monitor the project, of course, but it must let it play out to see if the project will demonstrate a better way. Georgia has a vested interest in making it work. If not, Georgia could choose to modify or abandon the project. Besides, the federal government will have the opportunity to review the results when the waiver comes up for renewal.

Failure to reinstate the approval will likely result in a legal struggle before the courts. Who knows how long such a legal process will take? Instead of using our resources and time to bicker before the courts, we should apply them to seek out the best ways to improve people’s lives. 

*Erik Randolph is Director of Research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. This blog reflects his opinion and not necessarily that of the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

Clock ticks as feds threaten to remove work requirement from Georgia’s partial Medicaid expansion | CENTER SQUARE

New federal budget report boosts $15-an-hour minimum wage | GEORGIA RECORDER

New federal budget report boosts $15-an-hour minimum wage | GEORGIA RECORDER

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in a report Monday found a gradual increase to a $15 federal minimum wage by 2025 would reduce poverty, add $54 billion to the deficit over a decade and increase pay for millions of low-income workers.

The report could help Democrats make a strong case for including a gradual federal minimum wage increase in the $1.9 trillion relief package put forth by the Biden administration

“Workers need immediate help, but doubling the federal minimum wage when Georgia small businesses are closing left and right is not the right answer,” said Buzz Brockway, the Georgia Center for Opportunity’s director of public policy and a former Republican state lawmaker from Gwinnett County.