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The minimum wage was increased in 1996 amid cries by various economists that it would cause unemployment. Critics shown that the last time the minimum wage went up the similar dire predictions from economists were made, but more people were employed after the minimum wage increase. The similar, they argued, would occur again. Using isoquant-isocost analysis, analyze this situation and illustrate how it can be possible for increases in the minimum wage to have little impact on employment levels.
ANSWER: The confusion arises over what the minimum wage increase could do in the short run versus the long run. In the short run, capital is assumed to be fixed. As a result, the firm probably could continue to employ the same number of individuals as before the wage increase until the relatively cheaper capital would be obtained to substitute for the relatively more expensive labor. In the interim, if the demand for the roduct increased, the firm might find it profitable to expand output and therefore hire more capital and more labor. In the isoquant-isocost graph below, the firm is initially at point A. If the price of labor increases, the budget line pivots in to line BB´. To maintain production at the similar level as before, the firm must increase its budget allocation to allow it to return to point A. This is the optimum position in the results and short run in no decrease in the employment level. Thus, in the long run the firm will move toward point C as capital becomes available. If demand increases warrant a move to isoquant II, then it is seems that more labor and more capital will be employed even though the price of labor increases.
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