IRLE Minimum Wage Group Influences National, State and Local Debates

This corpus of policy briefs, reports and academic research has greatly influenced the widespread public and academic debates about the future of U.S. minimum wage policy. The national media closely follows the release of IRLE publications and is quick to seek the opinions of many of our experts.

Much of the academic minimum wage research at IRLE has been spearheaded by Center for Wage and Employment Dynamics’s (CWED) chair, Professor Michael Reich, and former CWED co-chair Dr. Sylvia Allegretto.

Other minimum wage researchers at IRLE include the Labor Center’s Ken Jacobs and Annette Bernhardt. In addition to the CWED publications listed below, the Labor Center publishes a variety of research and resources on minimum wages, including the Inventory of US City and County Minimum Wage Ordinances.

CWED Minimum Wage Publications

Living Wages and Economic Performance: The San Francisco Airport Model
, and   –  Scholarly Publications

Institute of Industrial Relations, University of California, Berkeley. March 2003.

In response to low pay for workers and low service quality for taxpayers, about 100 local governmental entities in the United States have instituted living wage ordinances. Generally, these ordinances apply wage and benefits mandates for employees of contractors conducting services for a municipal government. Some of the ordinances also apply to employers who conduct business on government-owned property.

An innovative and far-reaching living wage ordinance has been implemented at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Nearly two years before September 11, 2001, SFO adopted a Quality Standards Program (QSP), which was designed to improve safety and security at SFO as well as improve the conditions of the SFO labor market. The program went well beyond the FAA regulations in place at the time, establishing compensation, recruitment and training standards for a wide range of airport employees whose performance affects airport safety and security. Two additional policies in San Francisco in 2000 also restructured the labor market at SFO: a Labor Peace/Card Check Rule and a Minimum Compensation Ordinance (MCO), which places living wage mandates into airport leases and service contracts not covered by the QSP.

In this study we examine the determinants of low-wage labor markets at the airport, the scope of the new policies at SFO, and the impacts of those policies on workers, employers, consumers and taxpayers, with special attention to the effects on airport safety and security. This study constitutes the first examination of the impacts of the policies. In this summary of our findings, we focus on the main findings of our study. The document that follows provides our full report.

To conduct the study, we carried out detailed surveys of airport employers and workers in the summer and fall of 2001, and we interviewed labor, management and airport officials. We also drew upon government documents and census datasets, the airport’s own security badge data, and FAA data on security at major U.S. airports.

A Small Raise for the Bottom
and   –  Scholarly Publications

InThe State of California Labor 2001, Paul M. Ong and James R. Lincoln, eds. 123-148. Cleveland: Brothers Printing Company. 2001.

Despite the longest economic boom in California’s history, a large and increasing number of low-paid workers are not sharing in its prosperity. Indeed, from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s real hourly wages fell steadily for most workers, by around 25 percent for the lowest fifth of the California workforce and 20 percent for the median worker, and rose only for the top fifth of the workforce. As a result, wage inequality in California is now at record levels and much higher than in the rest of the U.S.

For the vast majority of California wage earners, real hourly pay began to grow again only in 1996, at the beginning of the most recent round of minimum wage increases. By 1999 pay at the tenth percentile reached $6.04, 12.1 percent higher than in 1995, while pay at the fiftieth percentile grew by 2.8 percent, to $13 and pay at the ninetieth percentile grew 9.2 percent, to $32.61. As a result, the rate of growth in wage inequality has slowed. This timing suggests that the 1996-98 minimum wage increases may have played a part in a “small raise for the bottom.”

In this chapter, we first discuss the size and growth of low-wage employment in California since 1980 and then examine rising wage inequality in the state in the same period. We go on to present a sustained examination of the 1996-98 California minimum wage increase, which raised the state minimum by 35 percent, from $4.25 to $5.75, or $.60 above the national minimum.

We focus on the extent to which the 1996-8 minimum wage increases can be given credit for the reduction in wage inequality that occurred in the late 1990s. We find that the minimum wage increases did not negatively affect the strong employment growth over the period. At the same time it did benefit large numbers of low-wage workers. Through a series of statistical tests, we also find evidence that the minimum wage increases did reach the lowest income workers and households and did not spill over to high-paid workers.

We pay particular attention to the impacts of the policy on low-wage sectors of the economy. Precisely because minimum wages target the lowest paid in the labor market, we need to be careful that it does not lead to the displacement of the most vulnerable workers. Compared to the 1988 increases, the employment and wage
effects of the increases were both more benign and more durable.

Finally, we discuss the potential impact of increasing the minimum wage further, to $8 (which is the 1968 level in 1999 dollars). The effects of the latest round of increases provide a useful basis from which to assess the likely effects of a further increase.

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