Most living wage ordinances apply to private‐sector government contractors and, to a lesser extent, recipients of business aid or local government employees, or both. Supporters insist that the benefits are enormous and the costs minimal. But that view is an illusion, a product of the insular world of local government contracting. If the living wage were applied to all employees across the United States–the goal of advocates of a living wage–it would greatly magnify the well‐documented pitfalls of the minimum wage.
Decades of research have shown that the minimum wage harms the least‐skilled workers from poor families while heavily benefiting young workers from middle‐income households. Several studies critical of the living wage come to similar conclusions. The main beneficiaries of the living wage are public‐sector unionized employees because of the reduced incentives for local governments to contract out work. Instead of exploiting grievances of the marginally employed against “greedy” employers, advocates for the poor should focus their energies on building the skills of the poor.