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The Consequences of Minimum Wage Laws: Some New Theoretical Ideas

  • James B. Rebitzer
  • Lowell J. Taylor

Economists generally agree that the immediate and direct effect of a binding minimum wage law is to move firms backward along the demand curve for low skill workers. However, this prediction of worker displacement depends critically on a model of firm behavior that abstracts from problems of work incentives. In this paper we re-examine the theoretical basis for the consensus view of minimum wage laws. The central finding is that when firms use the threat of dismissal to elicit high levels of work effort, an increase in the minimum wage may have the immediate and direct effect of increasing the level of employment in low wage jobs. The formal logic of our model is similar to that found in the model of labor demand under monopsony. However, unlike the monopsony model, the positive employment effect of the minimum wage emerges in a labor market comprised of a large number of firms competing for the labor services of identical workers.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3877.

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Date of creation: Oct 1991
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Publication status: published as Journal of Public Economics, Vol. 56, no. 2 (1995): 245-255.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3877
Note: LS
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  1. Lawrence F. Katz & Alan B. Krueger, 1991. "The Effect of the New Minimum Wage Law in a Low-Wage Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 3655, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Holzer, Harry J & Katz, Lawrence F & Krueger, Alan B, 1991. "Job Queues and Wages," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 106(3), pages 739-68, August.
  3. Brown, Charles & Medoff, James, 1989. "The Employer Size-Wage Effect," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(5), pages 1027-59, October.
  4. Alida Castillo-Freeman & Richard B. Freeman, 1992. "When the Minimum Wage Really Bites: The Effect of the U.S.-Level Minimum on Puerto Rico," NBER Chapters, in: Immigration and the Workforce: Economic Consequences for the United States and Source Areas, pages 177-212 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Akerlof, George A & Katz, Lawrence F, 1989. "Workers' Trust Funds and the Logic of Wage Profiles," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 104(3), pages 525-36, August.
  6. Rebitzer, James B. & Taylor, Lowell J., 1995. "The consequences of minimum wage laws Some new theoretical ideas," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(2), pages 245-255, February.
  7. 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.
  8. David Card, 1992. "Using regional variation in wages to measure the effects of the federal minimum wage," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 46(1), pages 22-37, October.
  9. Bulow, Jeremy I & Summers, Lawrence H, 1986. "A Theory of Dual Labor Markets with Application to Industrial Policy,Discrimination, and Keynesian Unemployment," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(3), pages 376-414, July.
  10. Kenneth Burdett & Dale T. Mortensen, 1989. "Equilibrium Wage Differentials and Employer Size," Discussion Papers 860, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  11. Lang, Kevin, 1988. "Job Signalling and Welfare Improving Minimum Wage Laws: Reply," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 26(3), pages 533-36, July.
  12. Summers, Lawrence H. & Dickens, William T. & Katz, Lawrence F. & Lang, Kevin, 1989. "Employee Crime and the Monitoring Puzzle," Scholarly Articles 3645199, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  13. Harry Holzer & Lawrence Katz & Alan Krueger, 1988. "Job Queues and Wages: New Evidence on the Minimum Wage and Inter-Industry Wage Structure," Working Papers 610, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  14. Card, David & Krueger, Alan B, 1994. "Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast-Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(4), pages 772-93, September.
  15. Levine, David I., 1992. "Piece rates, output restriction, and conformism," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 13(3), pages 473-489, September.
  16. MacLeod, W. Bentley & Malcomson, James M., 1993. "Wage premiums and profit maximization in efficiency wage models," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 37(6), pages 1223-1249, August.
  17. Brown, Charles & Gilroy, Curtis & Kohen, Andrew, 1982. "The Effect of the Minimum Wage on Employment and Unemployment," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 20(2), pages 487-528, June.
  18. Oi, Walter Y, 1983. "Heterogeneous Firms and the Organization of Production," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 21(2), pages 147-71, April.
  19. L. J. Taylor & T. Kim, . "The employment effect in retail trade of California's 1988 minimum wage increase," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1018-93, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
  20. James B. Rebitzer & Michael D. Robinson, 1991. "Employer Size and Dual Labor Markets," NBER Working Papers 3587, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. Gibbons, Robert, 1987. "Piece-Rate Incentive Schemes," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 5(4), pages 413-29, October.
  22. David Neumark & William Wascher, 1992. "Employment Effects of Minimum and Subminimum Wages: Panel Data on State Minimum Wage Laws," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 46(1), pages 55-81, October.
  23. Shapiro, Carl & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1984. "Equilibrium Unemployment as a Worker Discipline Device," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(3), pages 433-44, June.
  24. Oliver E. Williamson, 1967. "Hierarchical Control and Optimum Firm Size," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 75, pages 123.
  25. Carmichael, H Lorne, 1989. "Self-Enforcing Contracts, Shirking, and Life Cycle Incentives," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 65-83, Fall.
  26. Calvo, Guillermo A & Wellisz, Stanislaw, 1978. "Supervision, Loss of Control, and the Optimum Size of the Firm," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(5), pages 943-52, October.
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