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CEP Discussion Paper
The Effect of Minimum Wages on Low-Wage Jobs: Evidence from the United States Using a Bunching Estimator
Doruk Cengiz, Arindrajit Dube, Attila Lindner and Ben Zipperer February 2018
Paper No' CEPDP1531:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: J31; J38; J88

Tags: minimum wage policy; bunching estimator; labor demand elasticity; wage distribution

We propose a novel method that infers the employment effect of a minimum wage increase by comparing the number of excess jobs paying at or slightly above the new minimum wage to the missing jobs paying below it. Using state-level variation in U.S. minimum wages, we implement our method by providing new estimates on the effect of the minimum wage on the frequency distribution of hourly wages. First, we present a case study of a large, indexed minimum wage increase using administrative data on hourly wages from Washington state. Then we implement an event study analysis pooling 138 minimum wage increases between 1979 and 2016. In both cases, we find that the overall number of low-wage jobs remained essentially unchanged. At the same time, the direct effect of the minimum wage on average earnings was amplified by modest wage spillovers at the bottom of the wage distribution. Our estimates by detailed demographic groups show that the lack of job loss is not explained by labor-labor substitution at the bottom of the wage distribution. We also find no evidence of disemployment when we consider higher levels of minimum wages. However, we do find some evidence of reduced employment in tradable sectors. In contrast to our bunching-based estimates, we show that conventional studies can produce misleading inference due to spurious changes in employment higher up in the wage distribution.