Rik W. Hafer

On Tuesday, February 28, 2017, the Missouri State Supreme Court upheld Saint Louis City’s right to raise its minimum wage. While the court’s decision may make legal sense, it is still bad economics. Enacting this ordinance will harm the poorest of workers. That’s why I describe it as pernicious.

The state minimum wage is currently $7.65. In 2015, the City of Saint Louis sought to raise the minimum wage on businesses within its borders. This initial attempt was struck down by a circuit court judge in 2015, but Tuesday’s ruling reversed that decision. As a result, the minimum wage that applies to businesses within Saint Louis proper (not the county or surrounding areas) will rise to $10 this year and $11 in 2018.

Saint Louis businesses will face higher labor costs, putting them at a competitive disadvantage against businesses located just across the city–county boundary. If I were an entrepreneur or business owner unsure of where to locate or expand, this minimum wage increase helped make the decision for me.

Show-Me Institute analysts have written many times about the effects of minimum wages hikes; see here and here for two examples. There are two main effects from this wrongheaded action.

First, and most obvious, raising the minimum wage imposes higher costs on businesses. Some of those businesses simply will not be able to maintain current operations: they will reduce the number of workers they employ, close up shop, or move. Why is it that supporters of the minimum wage hike have so much disdain for small business owners? After all, not every employer is McDonald’s.

Liberals and conservatives alike recognize that increases in the minimum wage will negatively affect exactly those workers for whom proponents claim to be champions; namely, the least skilled, entry level workers whom this higher wage will make even more unemployable. This is perhaps the most pernicious (there’s that word again) effect of all: Of the city’s estimated 69,000 individuals earning less than $11 an hour, how many will lose their jobs or face reduced hours? Can proponents claim success if the number of employed individuals declines by 6, or 600, or 6,000? It is bad policy that claims success on the backs of those made worse off.

And how many of those who are harmed by this latest minimum wage increase will we see interviewed so that the public understands how they were put out of a job by this unwise intervention? My guess is that the answer is zero. Out of sight, out of mind.

Lawmakers and union leaders will now sing their own praises and pat themselves on the back for the “good” they have done—no matter how much harm is done to workers and business owners.

About the Author

Rik Hafer
Research Fellow

Rik Hafer is a Show-Me Institute research fellow and a professor of economics and the Director of the Center for Economics and the Environment at Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri.