The paper I want to highlight in this post is “Price Floors and Employer Preferences” by John Horton. In this piece he conducts a randomized control trial on an online labor market, randomly assigning 4 different minimum wage levels ($0, $2, $3, and $4) to 160,000 job postings. This experimental design conveys several advantages over conventional empirical work. First, selection effects and biases based on the economic performance of the firms and the states/countries they are in are automatically controlled for by random assignment. Second, the online platform collects detailed measures on the pre-experiment attributes of all workers, the productivity of workers on the job, and the number of hours worked overall. These data are extremely important to analyzing the effects of the minimum wage but are not measured in the most popular empirical works on the topic. Finally, the computerized nature of the data leaves almost no room for measurement error.
…There are four main results: “(1) the wages of hired workers increases, (2) at a sufficiently high minimum wage, the probability of hiring goes down, (3) hours-worked decreases at much lower levels of the minimum wage, and (4) the size of the reductions in hours-worked can be parsimoniously explained in part by the substantial substitution of higher productivity workers for lower productivity workers.”
The significant reductions in hours worked come from two sources according to Horton’s analysis. First, firms are economizing on now more expensive labor; the labor demand curve slopes downward. Second, the substitution of higher productivity workers meant that jobs were completed faster, so the total hours worked went down. Both of these responses to the minimum wage hurt low productivity workers…
Interestingly, these results are consistent with finding little to no dis-employment effect in an observational study that only measures wages and headcounts (which is what the vast majority of the most popular studies do). This is because almost all of the effects of the minimum wage came from substitution of higher productivity for lower productivity ones, which wouldn’t show up in headcounts, and reduction in hours worked, which is not measured in most conventional data sets.
Here is the full short piece by Maxwell Tabarrok. File under “RCT gold standard for me but not for thee!”