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Measuring the Impact of Minimum Wages. Evidence from Latin America

In: Law and Employment: Lessons from Latin America and the Caribbean

  • William Maloney
  • Jairo Mendez

The authors provide an overview of minimum wage levels in Latin America and their true impact on the distribution of wages, using both numerical measures and kernal density plots for eight countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, and Uruguay). They especially try to identify"numeraire"effects--where the minimum is used as a reference higher in the wage distribution--and"lighthouse"effects--where it influences wage setting in the unregulated or"informal"sector. Their main findings: First, statutory minimum wages are often misleading, and graphical methods may be more reliable. Second, the minimum wage's effect on wage setting extends far beyond what is usually considered and probably beyond the effect in industrial countries. Using panel employment data from Colombia, where minimum wages seem high and binding, the authors quantify the minimum wage's effects on wages and on the probability of becoming unemployed. The Colombian case confirms the evidence offered by kernal density estimates: 1) The minimum wage can have an important impact on wage distribution in the neighborhood of the minimum wage. 2) The effects echo up the wage distribution in a clear demonstration of the"numeraire"effect. That this effect is stronger in Latin America than in the United States suggests that the minimum wage induces further-reaching rigidities in the labor market. The trade-off between any possible effect on poverty and reduced flexibility is likely to be more severe in countries where this is the case. The effects on employment, and unemployment, are substantial. 3) Informal salaries wages are also affected, confirming the graphical evidence of strong lighthouse effects. Self-employment earnings are not, however, confirming that the minimum wage is not simply serving as a measure of inflationary expectations.

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This chapter was published in:
  • James J. Heckman & Carmen Pagés, 2004. "Law and Employment: Lessons from Latin America and the Caribbean," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number heck04-1, May.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 10068.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:10068
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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    1. Edward M. Gramlich, 1976. "Impact of Minimum Wages on Other Wages, Employment, and Family Incomes," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 7(2), pages 409-462.
    2. Pierre-Richard Agenor & Joshua Aizenman, 1994. "Macroeconomic Adjustment with Segmented Labor Markets," NBER Working Papers 4769, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Maloney, William F., 2004. "Informality Revisited," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 32(7), pages 1159-1178, July.
    4. Gonzaga, Gustavo & Camargo, José Márcio & Neri, Marcelo Cortes, 2000. "Efeitos Informais Do Salário Mínimo E Pobreza," Economics Working Papers (Ensaios Economicos da EPGE) 372, FGV/EPGE Escola Brasileira de Economia e Finanças, Getulio Vargas Foundation (Brazil).
    5. Cunningham, Wendy V & Maloney, William F, 2001. "Heterogeneity among Mexico's Microenterprises: An Application of Factor and Cluster Analysis," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 50(1), pages 131-56, October.
    6. David Card & Alan Krueger, 1993. "Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania," Working Papers 694, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    7. John M. Abowd & Francis Kramarz & David N. Margolis, 1999. "Minimum Wages and Employment in France and the United States," NBER Working Papers 6996, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Janet Currie & Bruce C. Fallick, 1996. "The Minimum Wage and the Employment of Youth Evidence from the NLSY," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 31(2), pages 404-428.
    9. Norbert Fiess & Marco fugazza & William Maloney, 2002. "Exchange Rate Appreciations, Labor Market Rigidities, and Informality," Working Papers 2005_15, Business School - Economics, University of Glasgow.
    10. Horst Siebert, 1997. "Labor Market Rigidities: At the Root of Unemployment in Europe," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(3), pages 37-54, Summer.
    11. Alida Castillo Freeman & Richard B. Freeman, 1991. "Minimum Wages in Puerto Rico: Textbook Case of a Wage Floor?," NBER Working Papers 3759, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Fajnzylber, Pablo & Maloney, William F., 2001. "How comparable are labor demand elasticities across countries?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2658, The World Bank.
    13. Jean Baldwin Grossman, 1983. "The Impact of the Minimum Wage on Other Wages," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 18(3), pages 359-378.
    14. David Neumark & William L. Wascher, 2008. "Minimum Wages," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262141027, June.
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