American labor activists have mounted a national campaign to increase the minimum wage. They have made many arguments about the rising cost of living, the long-term effects of poverty, and the obstacles even faced by families who have two incomes. But in a new study, the White House has made a novel argument: Raising the minimum wage reduces crime by 3 to 5 percent.
The Council of Economic Advisers, which advises the president on national economic policy, recently unveiled key findings that cast doubt on the criminal-justice system’s ability to reduce and prevent crime. “Research has established that rising incarceration is not principally responsible for the reduction in crime, and that higher levels of imprisonment have occurred despite—not because of—changes in underlying criminal activity,” states the report. This is a significant finding: For decades, incarceration advocates promoted the opposite idea. So, if putting people in jails and prisons does not reduce crime, what does?
More education, more job opportunities, school enrichment activities, and a basic living wage are among the factors listed in the study. “Higher wages for low-skilled workers reduce both property and violent crime, as well as crime among adolescents,” the authors write. “The impact of wages on crime is substantial … a 10 percent increase in wages for non-college educated men results in approximately a 10 to 20 percent reduction in crime rates.” More concretely, the Council calculates that raising the minimum wage to $12 by 2020 “would result in a 3 to 5 percent crime decrease (250,000 to 510,000 crimes) and a societal benefit of $8 to $17 billion dollars.”