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Both the Economy and Society Benefit When Poor Families Have More to Spend

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by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Enhancing the human dignity of employment is an obvious, self-evident social benefit of raising minimum wages. It is both empowering and ennobling when breadwinners are able to provide for the needs of their family on their own, without government or extended family supports. This is reason enough to enact a living wage law. The minimum fair exchange for a full-weeks work ought to be a self-sufficient minimum wage. The burden for this minimum standard of living should rightly be on employers and not on the taxpayers who currently help support full-time low wage earners.

Corporations and business owners enjoy the benefits of government-subsidized labor and don’t want to give it up. Most of their arguments opposing higher wage standards rely on business-friendly economists whose academic theories and scholarly studies plum the detrimental impacts on businesses from higher labor costs. It is current practice to treat workers as a labor commodity separate from workers and their families as consumers and social beings with basic human needs. It is also current practice to take a business view of the economy without consideration of the broader context of the overall social economy within which commerce operates. All this results in flawed and biased arguments against self-sufficient minimum wages.

The overall beneficial impacts of increasing the purchasing power among poor families are rarely studied. Now a major new study has found that the ripple effects when direct, substantial cash assistance is given to poor families have, “… large positive spillovers on non-recipient households and firms, and minimal price inflation. The researchers in this large-scale experiment in Kenya estimated that a direct cash payment of $1,000 US dollars to poor families within randomly selected communities resulted in a local fiscal multiplier of 2.6 times within the local communities.

In addition to measured improvements in the welfare of the children and families who received an infusion of cash, the experiment reinforced the relationship between income and increased consumption to the benefits of both businesses and the families who did not receive cash payments. Here is an excerpt from the study:

“A large-scale cash transfer program in rural Kenya led to sharp increases in the consumption expenditures of treated households, and extensive broader effects on the local economy, including large revenue gains for local firms (that line up in magnitude with household consumption gains), as well as similar increases in consumption expenditures for untreated and treated households approximately a year and a half after the initial transfers. Local firms do not show meaningful increases in investment, and there is minimal local price inflation, with quite precisely estimated effects of far less than 1% on average across a wide range of goods.” [snip]… The consumption expenditures of untreated households and firms rise substantially in areas receiving large cash transfers…”

The infusion of cash payments to poor families in the study did not come from employers, and the economy of Kenya is very different than the economy here in the US. Directly extrapolating the results isn’t possible. Nevertheless, these findings are hopeful. The high fiscal multiplier stimulus effect on local businesses from increased consumption by poor families appear to mirrored results found here within states and municipalities that have raised minimum wage standards. While the burden of cash transfers from higher minimum wages is on businesses, the literature I’ve seen so far suggests there is still a positive fiscal multiplier within the business community coupled with little increase in unemployment and negligible increases in inflation.

A broader look at the spillover effects of increased base wages might show similarly positive results for the business economy and those workers who are already self-sufficient wage earners. Future studies of communities where the wage base is improved should also look at the wellbeing and overall welfare of children living in low wage households as well as the social wellbeing of the wage earners themselves.

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Further Reading

Debunking the Myth That It’s Your Fault You’re Poorhttps://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2015/09/debunking-myth-that-its-your-fault.html

Myth Busting Data RE: Minimum Wage Increaseshttps://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2012/09/myth-busting-data-re-minimum-wage.html

Making the Case for a Living Wage  https://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2012/07/making-case-for-living-wage.html

NPR –

Researchers Find A Remarkable Ripple Effect When You Give Cash To Poor Families

 https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/12/02/781152563/researchers-find-a-remarkable-ripple-effect-when-you-give-cash-to-poor-families


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