Minimum Wage Abroad

Over at the World Bank’s Development Impact blog, doctoral candidate Andrés Ham looks at the effects of minimum wage hikes in developing countries. “Minimum wages in developing countries tend to be set higher, are less likely to be rigorously enforced, and labor markets are often segmented into formal and informal sectors with minimum wage policy only covering formal workers,” he writes.

Given these differences and that most developing countries implement minimum wage policies, understanding their consequences on labor markets is critical for economic growth, developing effective labor policy, and poverty alleviation.
My job market paper studies the impact of minimum wage policy on labor market outcomes and poverty in Honduras from 2005-2012 using repeated cross-sections of household survey data. The attributes of Honduran minimum wage policy and its labor market are similar to many developing countries, so the resulting conclusions from this case study may extend beyond its borders.

His results?

I find that a 10 percent increase in minimum wages reduces employment rates by about 1 percent. Because this result lumps formal and informal sectors together, it disguises the real effect: a significant change in labor force composition. The same minimum wage hike lowers the likelihood of employment in the formal sector by about 8 percent and increases the probability of employment in the informal sector just over 5 percent. The data indicate that individuals substitute wage earning jobs for self-employment as a direct consequence of minimum wage hikes. Wages in the formal sector increase but the observed influx of workers towards the informal sector leads to a negative net effect on informal sector wages.

Since informal sector jobs tend to be lower-paid part-time positions, average earnings in this sector often lie below formal sector incomes. Hence, there may be an adverse effect on individual well-being from these observed changes in labor force composition. To approximate the welfare effect of minimum wages, I estimate whether minimum wage increases help workers escape from extreme poverty. I find that a 10 percent increase in minimum wages has a negative but statistically insignificant effect on the risk of extreme poverty for the formal labor force. The same minimum wage hike significantly raises the risk of extreme poverty for the informal workforce by around 4 percent. This result indicates that on balance, higher minimum wages increase poverty.

I also find evidence that more formal workers are being paid less than the minimum wage. This occurs despite formal employers’ legal obligation to comply with minimum wages. Some non-compliance has always been observed in developing countries, mostly in response to imperfect enforcement from regulators (Rani et al. 2013). In Honduras, about one in three formal workers earns sub-minimum wages. As minimum wages increase, so does the level of non-compliance. I estimate that about 36 percent more formal sector workers, who should be receiving minimum wages, are underpaid by their employers.1

Ham concludes, “My findings imply that the costs of minimum wage increases outweigh their benefits in developing countries. The policy implication is that setting high minimum wages has detrimental effects on labor markets, well-being, and compliance.”