Monthly Archives: May 2012

Detroit economics and the minimum wage

A cause of Detroit’s financial problems, it seems to me, is that Detroit has an uncommonly high minimum wage, $13.75/hr for all employees in any company that contracts with the city and does not provide free health care; or $10.50/hr for companies that provide healthcare. This minimum, called a living wage, is about double the state minimum wage of $7.40.

Although the city is financially bankrupt, the city can not hire janitors and pay less than this, nor hire accountants from a company that pays its janitors less than this. Besides the burden on Detroit’s budget, this puts a burden on its unemployment system. Many in Detroit don’t possess the education or skills to justify jobs at this wage. This high minimum wage effectively cuts them from the bottom rung of jobs at these companies — jobs at the bottom of the ladder of success. Many businesses find innovative ways around the law, using corruption and bribes to skirt enforcement, if the recent trials of the mayor are any indication, but a system of corruption is not good for the city.

As these wages are far above standard, most employed workers for the city get their jobs by corruption and connections, and most everyone knows they got their jobs this way rather than skill. As a result, workers have no incentive to improve at their job. In a corrupt system like this, there is no likelihood that  a raise would come with improved performance.

The justification for the living wage is the cost to support a family of 4 or 5, but Detroit is a much cheaper place to live than most, and not all workers are supporting families of 4 or 5. It therefore makes little sense to force all potential workers to refuse entry-level employment at $8.00/hour, a wage that would allow a single, motivated individual a decent living and a chance to climb as his/her needs and skills grew. Instead of promoting hard work and merit, this ordinance fosters corruption and cronyism; it makes it expensive for the city to hire contractors, makes it hard for workers to get their first jobs, and removes the benefits that normally come with improved skills. It’s a disaster, I suspect, and a reason the city is bankrupt.

Dr. Robert E. Buxbaum is a self-employed curmudgeon who tries to speak the truth as he sees it.