Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania


On April 1, 1992 New Jersey's minimum wage rose from $4.25 to $5.05 per hour. To evaluate the impact of the new law we surveyed over 400 fast food restaurants in New Jersey and Pennsylvania before and after the rise in the minimum. Comparisons of the changes in wages, employment, and prices at stores in New Jersey relative to stores in Pennsylvania (where the minimum remained constant at $4.25 per hour) provide simple robust estimates of the effect of the increased minimum wage. Our empirical findings challenge the conventional notion that a rise in the minimum causes employment to decline. Relative to stores in Pennsylvania, fast food restaurants in New Jersey increased employment by 2.5 employees per store. We also compare employment changes at stores in New Jersey that were initially paying $5.00 per hour or more (and were therefore largely unaffected by the new law) to the employment changes at lower-wage stores, where the new law raised wages by 10-15 percent. Stores that were unaffected by the minimum wage had the same employment growth as stores in Pennsylvania, while stores that had to increase their wages increased their employment. Finally, we evaluate theoretical models that might explain these results.

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American Economic Review, Vol. 84, No. 4, September, 1994
Working Papers