Friday, May 29, 2015

Potential Issues Caused by Inflation Indexing

5/29/15 - The national minimum wage was first created by Congress in 1938, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). It was developed to protect workers and ensure that they receive some standard level of pay for their hourly labor. The FLSA banned child labor, set a maximum workweek of 44 hours, and made the minimum rate of pay 25 cents per hour. As inflation has made prices for everything else increase, the minimum wage has increased as well, to its current $7.25 per hour. Many states, however, have their own minimum wages, with some as high as $9 or $10 per hour. In a very controversial decision among business owners and economists, the Los Angeles City Council recently started drafting a plan that would raise the minimum wage annually, raising it to $15 by 2020 and even higher in years to come. Tiffany Hsu and Andrew Khouri, in their LA Times article, address the debate over the wage increase, describing the points made on both sides of the argument.

Raising the minimum wage has always been a difficult undertaking. Through this plan, the minimum wage would go up automatically in response to inflation, which would benefit workers. Unfortunately, inflation also makes rent increase, which will make it more difficult for entrepreneurs, especially owners of small businesses, to be able to afford the higher wages. This would force them to either raise prices or lay off workers. However, prices can only go so high before consumers go elsewhere to make their purchases. This will affect the small businesses most drastically since larger businesses have more flexibility to lower prices without losing as much profit. This competition could potentially lead to a clearing of the market, forcing small businesses out.

This procedure, called inflation indexing, seems to be working well for the twenty-or-so localities with their own wage policies, according to UC Berkeley's Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. Inflation indexing allows the wage to respond directly to increases in the cost of living, without the need for intervention by policy-makers. In an ideal sense, indexing would increase the wage in a gradual manner, rather than shocking the system with large spikes. Int his way, businesses could adjust more easily to changing costs and respond accordingly. Still, consumers and business owners are wary.

Richard LoGuercio, the owner of Town & Country Event Rentals, would only have to raise wages for about 100 of his 430 workers under this policy. However, he fears that he will have to raise wages across the board to keep everyone happy. If minimum-wage laborers are receiving $15 or more per hour, everyone else will want to be paid more for their contributions to the business. As wages increase for the lowest-paid level in a company, wages in the higher levels will likely increase proportionally, which would force price increases and contribute to inflation. Thus, raising the minimum wage continuously in response to inflation could turn into an endless cycle of wage increases.

All in all, the major effects of the minimum wage increase will come down to the actions of consumers. Businesses could lay off workers in response to their increasing costs, but in the end, they will have to raise their prices. Consumers are only willing to spend so much before they decide that a product just isn't worth it. So, as long as consumers are willing to spend a few extra dollars per product, the effects of the wage increases may not be so bad.

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