OPINION: What Puerto Rico can teach us about raising the minimum wage
THIS week, 20 states began implementing minimum wage increases that were passed during 2016. As the country waits to see how these increased wages this will affect the economy, the U.S. territories have already provided us with a grim example.
After the 2007 Fair Minimum Wage Act passed, each of the fifty states was required to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour in 2006, to $7.25 by 2009. Few Americans realize that this legislation was also applied to the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands, who were also forced to raise wages.
When the minimum wage is increased, the private sector is responsible for finding the means to actually pay for these increases. Though many companies will be forced to raise prices in order to continue operating within their profit margins, some might be left with no choice but to lay off employees or dramatically cut employee hours.
Since minimum wage pay is typically associated with entry-level workers, if employers are forced to let these employees go, they will lack the skills necessary to quickly rebound in the job market. As a result, the unemployment rate begins to rise.
Real world consequences
When minimum wage requirements are made at the city or state level, the losses experienced from high unemployment rates are offset in the local economy, since many who are unable to find work often relocate to an area where the minimum wage isn’t as restrictive.
However, for those living in U.S. territories, relocation is not as easy as it is for residents in the continental states. Without the flexibility to relocate, the economic catastrophe that resulted from the 2007 minimum wage increase was felt on a grander scale.
According to National Review, “The impact on the economies of American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands was devastating. In American Samoa, by 2009, after only three of the ten scheduled minimum-wage increases, overall employment dropped 30 percent — 58 percent in the critically important tuna-canning industry. Real per capita GDP in American Samoa fell nearly 10 percent from 2006 levels. In the Northern Mariana Islands, by the end of 2009, employment was down by 35 percent, and real per capita GDP off by 23 percent.”
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