The Minimum Wage and Crime

The minimum wage is one of the most studied topics in economics, and also something that is frequently discussed on this blog from many different angles. For someone that isn’t an expert in this area, it can be hard to keep track of all the most recent, cutting-edge research on the topic.

Here’s a brand-new paper in the literature with an important finding: raising the minimum wage increases crime. Specifically, in “The Unintended Effects of Minimum Wage Increases on Crime” the authors find that 16-to-24-year-olds commit more property crimes after a minimum wage increase. For every 1% increase in the minimum wage, there is a 0.2% increase in property crime. That implies a doubling the minimum wage would increase property crimes for this age group by 20%. Here’s a figure from the paper showing this increase in crime:

What is the mechanism by which the rising minimum wage increases crime? Here the authors move into examining one of the central questions of the empirical minimum wage debate: the labor market. The authors do find evidence that employment decreases for this same age group following an increase in the minimum wage. Again, a figure from the paper:

The results in this paper add one more element to the cost-benefit calculus of the minimum wage. But I think the results are also interesting because they seem to point in the opposite direction of a paper co-authored by fellow EWED blogger Mike Makowsky. His paper “The Minimum Wage, EITC, and Criminal Recidivism” found that increasing the minimum wage made it less likely that former prisoners would commit another crime. I would be interested to hear Mike’s thoughts on this paper!

2 thoughts on “The Minimum Wage and Crime

  1. StickerShockTrooper February 22, 2023 / 3:41 pm

    Interesting results. What is the relevant difference in cohorts between the two papers? Age? Previous criminal record?

    Theory: perhaps the second study folds in adults who need to support themselves (and/or family), and so are sensitive to wages. Meanwhile, 16-24 year olds tend commit crimes out of boredom and discretionary cash, and so are sensitive to the availability of a job, any job…


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