Congress enacted the federal minimum wage in 1938, during the Great Depression. Congress had two goals; keeping workers away from poverty and boosting consumer spending for economic recovery. Today, there is a debate, whether we should increase the minimum wage again. Increasing the minimum wage is useful for several reasons. First, the current minimum wage has failed to keep up with inflation. Second, a higher income level reduces employee turnover and increases efficiency and ultimately, raising the minimum wage does not reduce employment. Even with high unemployment rates, the minimum wage is useful for the economy.
Today "the federal minimum wage" is $7.25 per hour since July 24, 2009. It has failed to keep up with inflation. The real value of the minimum wage rose steadily from 1938 until its value reached a peak in 1968. Thereafter, it suffered severe erosion as Congress failed to adjust for the inflation over time. The minimum wage of $1.60 an hour in 1968 would be $10.47 today when adjusted for inflation. This means that the purchasing power of the minimum wage has decreased significantly over time. The current minimum wage is no longer enough to protect workers out of poverty. A person who earns the minimum wage and works full-time (40 hours/week, 52 weeks/year) only earns about $12,000 in a year. This is almost $7,000 below the poverty line for a family of three ($19,090) according to the federal poverty guidelines. As a result, the gap between poor and high-income families is continuously increasing, and taxpayers have to pay more for public assistance such as food stamps and Medicaid. Increasing the minimum wage can increase the annual income of low-income families and reduce the public assistance expenditures by getting families out of poverty.
Policies increasing the compensation of low-wage workers improve workers' efforts and reduce turnover. Economists explain this connection with efficiency wage theory. The theory implies that higher wages motivate workers to work harder and increase their incomes to enable them to eat well and become healthier. Increasing the minimum wage thus will increase productivity and demand for labor. A recent study by Andreas Georgiadis (2008) supported this view. In the study, Georgiadis states “estimation results suggest that higher wage costs were more than offset by lower monitoring costs, and thus the overall evidence implies that the national minimum wage may have operated as an Efficiency Wage.”
These policies also encourage employers to increase training investments. Economists Daron Acemoglu and Jörn‐Steffen Pischke showed in their study (1999) that compression in the structure of wages can cause firm-sponsored training. They concluded “When the wage structure is distorted away from the competitive benchmark and in favor of less skilled workers, firms may want to invest in the general skills of their employees” In their research, in 2001, they also state “In noncompetitive labor...