The "small portion" part is more or less correct. By official counts, less than 5 percent of U.S. hourly workers earned the minimum wage or less last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (The reason some are paid less is that there are exemptions to the law.) The "minimal negative consequences" part is incorrect.
Job growth declines "significantly in response to increases in the minimum wage," according to Jonathan Meer, professor of economics at Texas A&M University, and Jeremy West, a graduate student at the university, coauthors of a new paper, "Effects of the Minimum Wage on Employment Dynamics."
Unlike most of the previous studies that use the level of employment, Meer and West focus on the effect of a higher minimum wage on employment dynamics, or the number of gross job gains and losses.
The minimum wage "meaningfully affects employment via a reduction in the rate of long run job growth," Meer and West write.
For example, a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage "reduces the gross creation of new jobs in expanding firms by about 2.0 percent," or 6,200 a year per state on average. (Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages that are higher than the federal minimum.) Think of it as jobs that would have been created but weren't. The impact on job destruction is less clear, the authors claim.
Any supply-side effects - a bigger pool of labor that improves the quality of employeremployee matches - are insufficient to "overcome the negative demand-side effects of higher labor costs," they write.
The analysis comports with how one would expect businesses to behave, and not because they're out to stick it to their employees.
Fast-food restaurants spend about a third of their revenue on labor. By some estimates, doubling the minimum wage to $15 would raise the price of a Big Mac by $1.28 to $5.27.
All things being equal, that would tend to reduce sales and eat up more of McDonald's customers' discretionary income.
The road to a higher-paying job goes through education, training for the jobs of tomorrow, and incentives such as the earned income tax credit, not through the imposition of a floor on wages.
"McDonald's is pretty good at making burgers and fries, but there is no reason to assume the company is equally adept at running a welfare program," Allen R. Sanderson, a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Chicago, writes in the Chicago Tribune.
So the next time someone tells you that the U.S. needs to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, ask him what's so special about $15.
Why not raise it to $50, or $100, and make everyone rich?
Baum, author of "Just What I Said," is a Bloomberg View columnist.