A ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ $15 an Hour National Minimum Wage is Really a ‘One-Size-Fits-None’ Minimum Wage

from – AEI.org – by Mark J. Perry



The Tax Foundation released the map above (“The Relative Value of $100) earlier this week in a post titled “The Real Value of $100 in Each State,” here are some details:

This map (above) shows the real value of $100 in each state. Prices for the same goods are often much cheaper in states like Missouri or Ohio than they are in states like New York or California. As a result, the same amount of cash can buy you comparatively more in a low-price state than in a high-price state.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis has been measuring this phenomenon for two years now; it recently published its data for prices in 2014. Using these data, we have adjusted the value of $100 to show how much it buys you in each state.

The states where $100 is worth the most are Mississippi ($115.34), Arkansas ($114.29), Alabama ($113.90), South Dakota ($113.64), and West Virginia ($112.49). In contrast, $100 is effectively worth the least in the District of Columbia ($84.67), Hawaii ($85.62), New York ($86.43), New Jersey ($87.34), and California ($88.97).

Regional price differences are strikingly large; real purchasing power is 36 percent greater in Mississippi than it is in the District of Columbia. In other words, by this measure, if you have $50,000 in after-tax income in Mississippi, you would have to have after-tax earnings of $68,000 in the District of Columbia just to afford the same overall standard of living.


This has substantial implications for public policy, which is often progressive with respect to income. Many policies – like minimum wage, public benefits, and tax brackets – are denominated in dollars. But with different price levels in each state, the amounts aren’t equivalent in purchasing power.

Warren Meyer also made the same point about the minimum wage on the Coyote Blog a few days ago in a post titled “Another Problem With the National Minimum Wage“:

But another issue is that this large variation in cost of living changes the effective value of a minimum wage. Based on these numbers, a $15 minimum wage in Washington DC becomes, effectively, a $20.43 minimum wage in Mississippi. Employment effects are likely to be much worse in these lower costs states. Since the higher cost states all vote Democrat in Presidential elections, and the lower cost states all vote Republican, one wonders if this is a bug or a feature of Democrat-proposed $15 minimum wage plans.

The table above displays the value of $100 in each state (and DC) ranked from the lowest ($84.67 in DC) to the highest ($115.34 Mississippi). Following Warren Meyer, I calculated the equivalent cost-of-living adjusted minimum wage in each state based on a $15 an hour minimum wage in the highest cost state (DC), see column above labeled “Min. Wage I” (and map below). Assuming that $15 an hour might be appropriate minimum wage in a high-wage, high cost-of-living area like DC (which will be in effect there in 2020), the minimum wages adjusted for the much lower cost of living in many states would be the equivalent of wages above $19 an hour in almost half of the US states (19) and above $20 an hour in four states (South Dakota, Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi).


Alternatively, the last column (“Min. Wage II“) shows what the cost-of-living adjusted minimum wage should be in each state, again assuming that a $15 an hour might be appropriate in the highest cost area — DC — and if that minimum wage was adjusted downward in each state to be consistent with the lower costs-of-living compared to DC. For example, if $15 an hour was considered to be a minimum wage that might have minimal negative employment effects in the highest-cost area of the US like DC, the cost-of-living adjusted minimum wage for states like  South Dakota, Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi should be only about $11 an hour. But at $15 an hour, the minimum wage could have huge negative employment effects on communities in those states.

And it’s those differences in cost-of-living (more than 36% comparing the highest cost DC to the lowest cost Mississippi) and the brief analysis above that explain why a uniform national minimum wage for the entire country would be terrible public policy, especially for America’s low-cost communities and states, where a $15 an hour minimum wage would be an economic disaster. And yet the $15 an hour minimum wage “hysteria” that is sweeping the country has given very little consideration or attention to the disastrous effects on small, low-cost, low-wage parts of the country.

For example, using a different cost-of-living calculator shows that a $50,000 annual salary in Washington, D.C. would be equivalent to a $25,714 salary in Cleveland, Ohio, which is almost a 50% difference. And yet progressives in Cleveland are determined to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, with no apparent recognition that the city’s low cost-of-living and the city’s labor market for low-wage workers can’t possibly support a minimum wage that could be almost equivalent to a $30 an hour on an adjusted basis compared to Washington, DC!

As my AEI colleague Andrew Biggs and I wrote several years ago in our article “A National Minimum Wage Is a Bad Fit for Low-Cost Communities,” when the push was for “only” a $10.10 an hour minimum wage (that was in the “pre-$15 an hour hysteria days”):

Even proponents of the minimum wage would have to concede that a universally applied minimum wage, without any adjustments for the significant differences in the cost of living across the country, has to have disproportionate effects by location. And proponents have to also agree that a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour will be far too high for low-cost rural areas, and will have adverse effects on low-skilled workers in those communities, even if low-skilled workers in high-cost, high-wage communities are relatively unaffected.

Moreover, the administration’s current proposal calls for indexing the minimum wage forever, meaning that the adverse effects of a single national minimum wage on low-cost, low-wage communities will be permanent.

Before raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, we should carefully consider the long-lasting damage that will be inflicted on thousands of America’s low-wage, low-cost communities from that “one-size-fits-all” national minimum wage.

MP: The huge variation in cost-of-living around the country is just one more, among dozens of other, reasons that a uniform $15 an hour federal minimum wage is terrible public policy — it’s a blunt, one-size-fits-all, federal government price control that applies uniformly to every community in America with no adjustments for the significant differences in living costs throughout the US. As the title of the post suggests, a “one-size-fits-all” $15 national minimum wage is really a “one-size-fits-none” minimum wage that will disproportionately and adversely affect low-skilled workers and small businesses in America’s low-cost areas – and those areas are among the country’s poorest communities. Leave it to the well-meaning progressives to support public policy that will harm the most vulnerable and poorest Americans… once again.

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Ruel D
5 years ago

Socialism at its finest. Mr. Businessman, you are not qualified to determine what to pay your employees. Only I, the bureaucratic government hack, sitting in an office in DC can determine what is fair and equitable in your hometown. The Republic is dead, folks.

Chuck La Marche
5 years ago
Reply to  Ruel D

“One the greatest mistakes we make is to judge programs by their good intentions and not by their actual results”! Milton Friedman

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