Will a higher minimum wage *reduce* automation?

That’s why they have Cowen’s First Law!  Here is new research by Mitch Downey at UCSD (pdf):

Recent research emphasizes the pressure technological change exerts on middle-wage occupations by automating routine tasks. I argue that technology only partially automates these tasks, which often still require labor. Rather, technology reduces task complexity enabling a less skilled worker to do the same job. The costs of automation, then, are not only the costs of the technology itself but also of low-wage workers to use it. By raising the cost of low-wage labor, the minimum wage reduces the profitability of adopting automating technologies. I test this prediction with state variation in the minimum wage and industry variation in complementarity between low-wage workers and technology. I show that accounting for state price differences induces new and useful minimum wage variation, derive new measures of complementarity from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and the CPS Computer Use Supplement, and build a measure of technology based on IT employment, the largest component of IT spending. My results imply a $1 decrease in the minimum wage raises the average industry’s technology use by 30% and decreases the routine share of the wage bill by 1 percentage point (3.3%), both relative to a counterfactual without complementarity. Routine-intensive industries often exhibit high complementarity, making the minimum wage an important policy lever to influence the pace of routine-biased technical change.

I owe this link to someone other than myself, but can no longer remember who that is…sorry!


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