NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Times Reverses Course On Minimum Wage

September 22, 1999

Last week, the New York Times editorialized unequivocally in favor of raising the minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $6.15, something Congress probably will support later this year. "An increase now will boost income for the poorest workers without the danger of creating more unemployment," the Times says.

As recently as 1996, the Times was willing to acknowledge that there might be some negative consequences, but nevertheless supported a higher minimum wage.

The 1996 editorial, however, was a break from the past for the Times, which had persistently editorialized against the minimum wage since at least the 1930s. As recounted in his excellent book, "Times Change: The Minimum Wage and the New York Times" (Pacific Research Institute, 1994), economist Richard McKenzie documents the Times' long, consistent and correct opposition to the minimum wage.

The great economic journalist Henry Hazlitt, who was a Times editorial writer from 1934 to 1946, was probably responsible for its early sensibility on the minimum wage. But well into the 1970s and 1980s, the Times continued to editorialize against the minimum wage. On January 14, 1987, the Times published what has to have been its most remarkable editorial. The headline tells it all: "The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00."

McKenzie thinks that academic research on the minimum wage was driving the Times' editorial positions and is responsible for its flip-flop. When more recent research by economists David Card and Alan Krueger concluded that higher minimum wages may actually increase jobs and began to break down the economics profession's unanimity, the Times seized the opportunity to reverse its opinion. Yet as McKenzie notes in a new paper published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, the overwhelming weight of economic opinion still says that the minimum wage reduces employment.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, September 22, 1999.


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