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New research suggests that when big companies increase wages, they drive up pay in the places where they operate — without a notable loss in jobs.
Amazon has embarked on an advertising blitz this winter, urging Congress to follow the company’s lead and raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. American workers “simply can’t wait” for higher pay, the company said in a recent blog post.
In the areas where Amazon operates, though, low-wage workers at other businesses have seen significant wage growth since 2018, beyond what they otherwise might have expected, and not because of new minimum-wage laws. The gains are a direct result of Amazon’s corporate decision to increase starting pay to $15 an hour three years ago, which appears to have lifted pay for low-wage workers in other local companies as well, according to new research from economists at the University of California, Berkeley, and Brandeis University.
The findings have broad implications for the battle over the federal minimum wage, which has stayed at $7.25 an hour for more than a decade, and which Democrats are trying to raise to $15 by 2025. For one, the research illustrates how difficult it can be for low-wage workers to command higher pay in the modern American economy — until a powerful outside actor, like a large employer or a government, intervenes.
Most directly, there is little evidence in the paper that raising the minimum wage would lead to significant job loss, even in low-cost rural areas, a finding consistent with several recent studies. Other research, including a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office, has found a larger negative effect on jobs, although still smaller than many economists believed in the past.
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