Brookings Papers on Economic Activity: Spring 2009

Brookings Institution Press
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Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (BPEA) provides academic and business economists, government officials, and members of the financial and business communities with timely research on current economic issues.


Editors' Summary

The Financial Crisis: An Inside View By Phillip Swagel

Understanding Inflation-Indexed Bond Markets By John Y. Campbell, Robert J. Shiller, and Luis M. Viceira

Do Tax Cuts Starve the Beast? The Effect of Tax Changes on Government Spending By Christina D. Romer and David H. Romer

Causes and Consequences of the Oil Shock of 2007-08 By James D. Hamilton

Why Doesn't Capitalism Flow to Poor Countries? By Rafael Di Tella and Robert MacCulloch, reviewing a previous edition or volume

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About the author

The New Editors

David Romer is the Herman Royer Professor of Political Economy at Berkeley and is currently a senior resident scholar at the International Monetary Fund. He is director of the Program in Monetary Economics at the National Bureau of Economic Research and is a member of the NBER's Business Cycle Dating Committee.

JustinWolfers is an associate professor in the Business and Public Policy department at theWharton School. He is also a faculty research fellow with the National Bureau of Economic Research.

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Additional Information

Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
Oct 1, 2010
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Business & Economics / Economic Conditions
Business & Economics / Economics / General
Business & Economics / Reference
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Tomas Hellebrandt
 As the United States emerges from the Great Recession, concern is rising nationally over the issues of income inequality, stagnation of workers' wages, and especially the struggles of lower-skilled workers at the -bottom end of the wage scale. While Washington deliberates legislation raising the minimum wage, a number of major American employers—for example, Aetna and Walmart—have begun to voluntarily raise the pay of their own lowest-paid employees.

In this collection of essays, economists from the Peterson Institute for International Economics analyze the potential benefits and costs of widespread wage increases, if adopted by a range of US private employers. They make this assessment for the workers, the companies, and for the US economy as a whole, including such an initiative's effects on national competitiveness.  These economists conclude that raising the pay of many of the lowest-paid US private-sector workers would not only reduce income inequality but also boost overall productivity growth, with likely minimal effect on employment in the current financial context.

"It is possible to profit from paying your employees well…and increasing lower-paid workers' wages is the way forward for the United States," argues Adam S. Posen in his lead essay (reprinted from theFinancial Times).  Justin Wolfers and Jan Zilinsky argue that higher wages can encourage low-paid workers to be more productive and loyal to their employers and coworkers, reducing costly job turnover and the need for supervision and training of new workers. Tomas Hellebrandt estimates that if all large private sector corporations in the United States outside of sectors that intensively use low-skilled labor increased wages of their low-paid workers to $16 per hour, the pay of 6.2 percent of the $110 million private-sector workers in the United States would increase on average by 38.6 percent. The direct cost to employers would be $51 billion, only around 0.3 percent of GDP. Jacob Kirkegaard and Tyler Moran explore the experience of employers in other advanced countries, with its implications for international competitiveness, and Michael Jarand assesses the impact of a wage increase on the near-term development of the US macroeconomy.

Data disclosure: The data underlying the figures in this analysis are available for download in links listed below.

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