How informative is historical experience with the minimum wage about the consequences of raising the federal minimum to $15? This paper compares a hypothetical $15 federal minimum to the most recent federal minimum wage increase, in 2007, from $5.15 to $7.25. I describe a straightforward method for using publicly available data from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program to assess whether a proposed minimum wage increase is within historical experience. I illustrate the method by comparing the occupations and industries most directly affected by the 2007 increase with those that would be affected by a $15 minimum wage. By any measure, a $15 minimum wage is far outside historical experience—in both its size and the breadth of occupations and industries it would affect—and the frontier of historical experience is a minimum wage between $9 and $11 per hour. I recommend that future minimum wage proposals, both federal and local, include a similar analysis to assess whether the proposal is within historical experience. Finally, I argue for future research to take advantage of several scheduled state-level minimum wage hikes to estimate heterogeneous employment effects by occupation and industry.
Second version, October 20, 2021
J31: Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
J38: Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs: Public Policy