Last week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report estimating that 500,000 jobs would be destroyed if the minimum wage was raised to $10.10. Suddenly on defense, the White House turned to a list of 600 economists who support an increase in the minimum wage and disagree that it would harm the labor market.
This list of 600 minimum wage-supporting economists (602 to be exact) was organized by the labor union-backed Economic Policy Institute (EcPI), and has been referenced widely by supporters of the policy, including President Obama, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and The New York Times editorial board. But how credible is the list?
An Employment Policies Institute analysis of the list’s signers, based on over 5,000 pages of sourcing documents, reveals that close to half don’t possess expertise in labor economics–the discipline central to understanding the minimum wage. Many of the signers are either self-declared radical researchers or full-time staff at union-supported organizations. (A full-page ad in The New York Times highlights some of the most outrageous quotes from these researchers.)
EPI used a standard set of search tools to locate information for each of the 602 signers on the EcPI list of economists. To determine PhD and specialty, we searched available biographies, curricula vitae, and other descriptive documents on the professors’ backgrounds. We endeavored to give signers the benefit of the doubt: For instance, if a signer didn’t specifically list “labor” as a specialty but engaged in research related to the subject, we classified them as having labor experience. For 21 of the signers, we were unable to locate sufficient information to make a determination on either their PhD or specialty.
Specialty or Research Focus
Economists, like doctors, are not homogeneous: In the same way that you wouldn’t ask a dentist for his or her opinion on a broken foot, you wouldn’t ask a health economist for their opinion on the empirical research on the minimum wage. For this reason, we wanted to determine how many had some specialty or expertise in labor markets. Of the 571 signers who 1) we found sufficient sourcing information for, and 2) have an economics Ph.D., 259 (or 45%) do not specialize in labor economics.
Radical or Union-Affiliated
A number of the signers — whether or not they have experience in labor-related topics — have research interests that are considerably outside the economic mainstream. Specifically, at least 40 of the signers are specialists in or have done considerable work in the economics of Marxism or Socialism, or are affiliated with the “radical” study of economics. Predictably, some of these signers have made extreme statements, labeling the United States “the world’s number one rogue,” lauding Hugo Chavez as a “great leader,” or praising the “particular model of socialism pioneered by the Soviet Union.” One of the signers is even a well-known advocate for “9-11 Truth.”
Other signers are full-time staffers at labor unions, union-supported organizations, or other activist groups. Specifically, the list includes at least 33 signers affiliated with the following far-left, labor, or labor-backed organizations: Economic Policy Institute, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Center for American Progress, Union of Concerned Scientists, Massachusetts Climate Action Network, Keystone Research Center, Fiscal Policy Institute, Center on Wisconsin Strategy, American Federation of Teachers, Service Employees International Union, United Auto Workers, and the AFL-CIO.
No Economics PhD
While a majority of the signers have a Ph.D. in economics, there are several exceptions. Seven of the signers have a Ph.D. in topics such as public policy, political science, social welfare, political economy, or public administration. One signer lacks a Ph.D. but has a law degree. Finally, it appears two of the signers lack any higher education: One holds a bachelors degree in economics from Wayne State University; the other appears to be an undergraduate student studying economics at Queens College. (We checked the faculty directory and called the university to verify that there is no professor by this name teaching in the economics department.)
There are still highly-qualified and intelligent signers on this list–not the least of which are the seven Nobel Laureates supporting a jump to $10.10. But there are also at least nine Nobel Laureates in economics who historically opposed a higher minimum wage–including major names in the field like Friedman, Becker, Buchanan, and Tobin.
The obvious purpose of the list is to create an impression that an economic consensus exists in favor of a higher minimum wage, when that’s far from the truth. While it’s clearly possible to find a group of economists who endorse a higher minimum wage, the endorsement of this group of 600 does not clear the bar for credibility.
These results suggest that the White House’s favored list has greater value as a public relations gimmick than a document to use for policy decisions. Rather, the most important “list” is the list of studies that demonstrate a higher minimum wage reduces employment. That includes 85 percent of the most credible studies from the last 20 years.