Making Youth Unemployment Worse

The unintended negative effects of raising minimum wage rates

By Randall Pozdena and Steve Buckstein

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated the CEO of one of the nation’s largest fast food chains to serve as U.S. Secretary of Labor. The food preparation and serving industry employs almost half of all minimum wage workers. It is thus widely assumed that the nominee would be unfriendly to minimum wage regulation. Efforts such as the union-financed Fight for 15 are seeking to raise the federal minimum wage in the food service industry to $15 per hour—a 52 percent increase over the $9.87 average pay rate in the industry today.

The spotlight has thus returned to the issue of minimum wage regulation, including the impact of recent Oregon legislation. SB 1532, passed in 2016, phases in a $14.75 minimum wage in the Portland metro area, and $13.50 and $12.50 respectively in other metro areas and rural areas, by 2022. The average annual increase over the prior (statewide) minimum wage would be 8.5, 6.6, and 5.0 percent respectively for these three tiers over the 2016-2022 phase-in period. As with the last major reform in 2002, the legislated minimum wages would be adjusted after that time by any increases in the CPI.

To put these events in perspective, Cascade Policy Institute has released a major, new analysis of the history, theory, and empirical impacts of minimum wage regulation. The report focuses on the labor market impacts on youth, aged 16 to 24—the age cohort most likely to be affected as new entrants into the labor force. The study uses data and statistical techniques that, for the first time, allow measurement of how the impact of an increase in the minimum wage evolves over time, not just in the period immediately after the increase. In addition, it allows prediction of the interaction of the minimum wage shock with employment, wages, and labor force participation over time.

The findings have ominous implications for youth labor markets. First, as many studies over the past fifty years have shown, the new study finds that increases in the minimum wage significantly depress youth employment and labor force participation. The share of youth employed falls by 3 percent in just the first six months after a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage, and it falls by 6 percent after a year. Similarly, the share of youth participating in the labor force declines by 4 percent at 6 months and 6 percent at 18 months.

Second, contrary to the claims of minimum wage advocates that higher minimum wages create a cascade of even greater increases, youth wages only rise by the amount of the mandated increase—and then only for those lucky enough to find a minimum wage job. Collectively for all youth, what wage increases occur are more than offset by condemnation of a large share of youth to a zero wage; namely, to unemployment.

Third, the study finds that even a one-time increase in the minimum wage persistently continues to depress the share of youth who are employed. Specifically, statistically significant employment impacts can be expected to cumulate over time for at least five years into the future. Even seemingly innocuous increases in the minimum wage—such as Oregon’s prior 2002 policy of adjusting for the CPI—can significantly depress youth employment. Since the implementation of that adjustment policy fourteen years ago, the previous 56 percent share of youth employed has fallen to just 46 percent, an 18 percent decline. Thus, it appears that inflexible, automatic CPI indexing is inferior to letting markets set youth wage rates.

Oregon’s newest policy of legislating different minimum wage levels among metro and designated rural markets is, ironically, a concession to the reality that unregulated private market forces better balance the supply and demand for youth labor. Since the state imposed higher-than-market levels of wages nonetheless, the new study uses its findings to estimate the impact on the three tiers’ respective youth labor markets.

Although detailed, localized youth employment data for Oregon does not exist, application of the nationally estimated behavior measures can be used to estimate regional tier impacts. This analysis suggests that Portland metro area youth will suffer the most, with the share of employed youth falling by 30 percent by 2022. Youth in the state’s other metro areas will see a 20 percent decline, and youth in designated rural areas of Oregon will see a 15 percent decline.

Even though a three-tiered minimum wage is an attempt to accommodate real economic differences between urban and rural areas, Oregon has made a public policy mistake that predictably will be paid for by many of the state’s youngest current and soon-to-be potential members of the youth labor force.


Randall Pozdena is President of QuantEcon, Inc., an Oregon-based consultancy. He received his BA in Economics from Dartmouth College and his Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Cascade Policy Institute’s new analysis, Minimum Wage: Its Role in the Youth Employment Crisis. Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Cascade Report Finds Long-Term Negative Impacts on Youth from Oregon’s New Minimum Wage Policy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:

Steve Buckstein

Senior Policy Analyst

Cascade Policy Institute

(503) 242-0900

steven@cascadepolicy.org

PORTLAND, Ore. – Cascade Policy Institute released a report today that has foreboding implications for young people in our state. The report was commissioned after passage of SB 1532 earlier this year, which phases in large increases in Oregon’s minimum wage. The law mandates minimum wages by 2022 of $14.75 in the Portland metro area, and $13.50 and $12.50 respectively in other metro areas and rural areas. These rates must be adjusted after 2022 by any increases in the Consumer Price Index.

Authored by Oregon economist Randall Pozdena, Ph.D., Minimum Wage: Its Role in the Youth Employment Crisis analyzes the history, theory, and empirical impacts of minimum wage regulation. It focuses on youth aged 16 to 24 because they are most likely to be affected by minimum wage increases as new entrants into the labor force. The report uses data and statistical techniques that, for the first time, allow measurement of how the impact of an increase in the minimum wage evolves over time, not just in the period immediately after the increase. In addition, it allows prediction of the interaction of the minimum wage shock with employment, wages, and labor force participation over time.

“This report confirms ominous long-term negative consequences of minimum wage increases, not just for those currently 16 to 24 years old, but for future potential workers coming into this age group,” said Steve Buckstein, Cascade’s founder and Senior Policy Analyst. 

Key findings of the report: 

  • Increases in the minimum wage significantly depress youth employment and labor force participation. The share of youth employed falls by 3 percent in just the first six months after a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage, and it falls by 6 percent after a year. Similarly, the share of youth participating in the labor force declines by 4 percent at 6 months and 6 percent at 18 months.
  • Contrary to the claims of minimum wage advocates that higher minimum wages create a cascade of even greater increases, youth wages only rise by the amount of the mandated increase—and then only for those lucky enough to find a minimum wage job. Collectively for all youth, what wage increases occur are more than offset by condemnation of a large share of youth to a zero wage; namely, to unemployment.
  • Even a one-time increase in the minimum wage persistently continues to depress the share of youth who are employed. Specifically, statistically significant employment impacts can be expected to cumulate over time for at least five years into the future. Even seemingly innocuous increases in the minimum wage—such as Oregon’s prior 2002 policy of adjusting for the CPI—can significantly depress youth employment. Since the implementation of that adjustment policy fourteen years ago, the previous 56 percent share of youth employed has fallen to just 46 percent, an 18 percent decline. Thus, it appears that inflexible, automatic CPI indexing is inferior to letting markets set youth wage rates.
  • Portland metro area youth likely will suffer the most, with the share of employed youth falling by 30 percent by 2022. Youth in the state’s other metro areas will see a 20 percent decline, and youth in designated rural areas of Oregon will see a 15 percent decline.

Buckstein and Pozdena conclude that “even while bowing to the reality of economic differences between urban and rural areas of the state in its latest minimum wage law, Oregon has made a public policy mistake that predictably will be paid for by many of the state’s youngest current and soon-to-be potential members of the youth labor force.”

The report, Minimum Wage: Its Role in the Youth Employment Crisis, is available here.

Founded in 1991, Cascade Policy Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research and educational organization that focuses on state and local issues in Oregon. Cascade’s mission is to develop and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity. For more information, visit cascadepolicy.org.

###

New Report: Transportation Funding Should Be a State and Local Responsibility

Study Finds That Transportation Funding Should Be a State and Local Responsibility

May 4, 2016 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:
John A. Charles, Jr.

503-242-0900

john@cascadepolicy.org

PORTLAND, Ore. –  In a study released today by Cascade Policy Institute, economist Randall Pozdena recommends that transportation regulation and finance devolve from the federal government to state and local governments. In addition, the study recommends that most transportation taxes be replaced with targeted user fees, to ensure that those who pay for services receive benefits commensurate with those payments.

For over 30 years, the federal government has assumed a disproportionately large role in the regulation and subsidization of transportation services. Yet, most travel is local. For instance, the Cascade research paper found: 

  • More than 50% of all household trips, by all modes, are less than five miles long
  • More than 90% are less than 20 miles
  • 92% of freight shipments are less than 500 miles, by weight

Despite the dominance of local travel, 32% of all transportation funding flows through federal processes.

Of the various transport modes, private freight, airline travel, and pipeline shipments are the least regulated and least subsidized. These modes benefit from high levels of private ownership and capital investment, subject to normal market discipline.

Highway travel and transit suffer from the most distortions and cross-subsidies through federal intervention. As a result, most urban areas face growing levels of traffic congestion, and large urban transit systems are seriously (and often tragically) under-maintained.

The transit industry, which has steadily become a government-sponsored enterprise since passage of the Urban Mass Transit Act of 1964, is the sector most in need of a new business model. According to Dr. Pozdena,

“By definition, transit trips are extremely short and not important parts of larger networks. Federal and state governments should be out of the transit sector altogether, and rely on fare box revenue to ensure that the cost of the service is worthwhile to the user.”

For comparison purposes, Dr. Pozdena calculates that it costs roughly $60,000 to recruit one new additional transit rider in Oregon, which is 10 times the cost of providing new highway capacity for one additional auto commuter.

The Portland region in particular suffers from a mode imbalance in which vast sums of federal and state dollars have been spent on lightly-used passenger rail lines, while new highways and bridges have been canceled or delayed. This problem can be solved by inviting private investors to build needed new facilities through toll-based payments, and implementing time-of-day pricing schemes to ensure free-flow travel conditions on the regional highway system.

Last week the Oregon legislature announced the formation of an 18-person task force to study transportation funding for the 2017 legislative session. According to John A. Charles, Jr., CEO of Cascade Policy Institute,

“The Oregon Legislature has struggled unsuccessfully for decades to devise a sustainable transportation funding system. As yet another task force prepares to scale the fortress wall with the same weapons used in previous assaults, members should consider a new approach including targeted user fees rather than broad-based taxes, electronic tolling and variable pricing, elimination of political mandates prohibiting new highway facilities, and market-based reforms including privatization.

“These principles work everywhere else in the economy; they would work in the transportation sector as well, if we allowed them.”

The full report, Devolution of Transportation: Reducing Big Government Involvement in Transportation Decision-Making, can be downloaded here.


Founded in 1991, Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s premier policy research center. Cascade’s mission is to explore and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity. To that end, the Institute publishes policy studies, provides public speakers, organizes community forums, and sponsors educational programs. Cascade Policy Institute is a tax-exempt educational organization as defined under IRS code 501(c)(3). Cascade neither solicits nor accepts government funding and is supported by individual, foundation, and business contributions. The views expressed in Cascade’s reports are the authors’ own.

 

Taxpayers Bear the Risk of a Very Rich Oregon Public Employees Retirement System

By Randall Pozdena

The Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) fund is, once again, in the news because of its weak financial condition. The Oregon Supreme Court recently rejected cost containment changes to PERS plans. Also, asset returns have been weaker than hoped. The Oregonian reported last December 1 that PERS’ unfunded actuarial liability (UAL) was likely to be $20.5 billion by the January 1, 2016—an amount equal to 27 percent of Oregon household income.

The PERS experience illustrates the hazard of legislating defined-benefit (DB) pension plans for public employees. If, as courts have ruled, such legislation creates a contract, the state and other public employers have little ability to manage unanticipated plan risks. The problem is aggravated because DB plans tempt politicians to make overly lavish promises today because risks are only manifest in the future. The complexity of defined-benefit plan actuarial mathematics helps obscure the risks of bad plans.

The origin of the PERS funding problems is 1975 legislation that promised a guarantee against low fund asset returns—specifically, returns below those assumed by the plan itself. In addition, between 1975 and 1999, the PERS board went further, crediting most excess returns to beneficiaries. Set-asides for the inevitable decline in returns grew to be woefully inadequate.

I learned of this crucial feature from the fund’s actuary in 1993—my second year of service on the Oregon Investment Council (OIC). The heads-we-win, tails-employers-lose arrangement was unique among state plans and there was little appreciation of the risks it posed. In fact, however, the crediting process is tantamount to a very risky derivatives strategy—called selling “naked put options”—with employers and taxpayers de facto bearing the risk.

Since the burden of this practice was not known, the OIC requested one of its consultants to make this measurement. An attorney for the unions later characterized this as “pushing buttons [Pozdena and the OIC] had no business pushing.” The dire implications for fund solvency were presented at a PERS board retreat after a year of extraordinarily large asset returns in 1999. The board was urged to not credit that year’s excess return, but did so anyway.

The “winners” in this risky game were Oregon public employees in the plan for the longest time (“Tier 1”). According to PERS data, 2006 Tier 1 retirees with 30 years of experience enjoy average retirement income equal to 100 percent of their final average salary (FAS)—a 100 percent replacement rate. The average replacement rate for all 30-year retirees between 1990 and 2014 is 81 percent. In contrast, a 30-year private DB retiree in our census region enjoyed a replacement rate of just 51 percent in 2010. Moreover, in 2015, only 19 percent of private workers have access to a DB plan, and 54 percent have access to a defined contribution (DC) plan.

I have calculated that, to enjoy a 50 percent replacement rate after 30 years using a DC plan, workers have to invest 18 percent of their income yearly. To achieve 81 percent or 100 percent, like some PERS beneficiaries, they would have to put aside 30 percent or 40 percent of each year’s salary, respectively.

There is an axiom in finance that “risk does not go away; it can only be put on someone else.” There are only three ways to manage risk in this case. One is to achieve better asset returns. But the OIC and the Treasury have limited ability to do so without incurring further risk to plan solvency. The second way is to reform, after the fact, historical crediting excesses. This option is foreclosed by Oregon Supreme Court rulings. The court considers legislated pension plans to be de facto contracts with inviolate features. The state can, and has, created less risk-prone plans for future employees, but this cannot extinguish existing risk. The third way to shift risk is through increased taxation of private incomes and/or termination of public employees and loss of their services. Taxing private incomes is tantamount to making the private sector bear its own plus PERS risks. It also poses macroeconomic risks. Professor Alexander Volokh of Emory Law School has suggested outsourcing or privatization of public services as a means of lowering pension costs that limits economic and service losses.

Randall Pozdena, Ph.D. and CFA, is a consulting economist and former professor and research vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. He is also a former member and chair of the Oregon Investment Council and a Cascade Policy Institute Academic Advisor.

A version of this commentary was originally published in The Oregonian on December 10, 2015 as “Why PERS is under water yet again.”