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Economics 101 

Moon Township, Pa. -- Members of Congress who hold a bachelor’s degree in economics were more likely than their colleagues to oppose an increase in the federal minimum wage, according to a study by economists at Robert Morris University (RMU) and James Madison University.

The researchers examined the educational backgrounds of members of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives who voted in 2007 on a bill to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour from $5.15 hour. Thirty-three percent of the members who were college economics majors voted against the bill, compared to almost 22 percent of the overall congressional sample.

The relationship between an economics education and opposition to the minimum wage hike held steady even when controlling for other variables including ideology, party affiliation and constituents’ characteristics. A Republican with an economics degree, for example, was 34 percent more likely than a Republican without an economics degree to oppose the minimum wage hike.

The paper is being published by the Employment Policies Institute, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit research organization. It was written by Brian O’Roark at RMU and William C. Wood at James Madison. The authors believe that the relative reluctance of economics majors in Congress to support a minimum wage hike reflects a consensus among economists that the minimum wage is bad public policy. 

“The robustness of the results of this study lends significant support to the importance of economic education, especially in the area of public policy,” the authors wrote in their paper.

“Members of Congress with a background in economics appear to carry that knowledge over into their decision making on the issue of the minimum wage. Unfortunately, they are not convincing their colleagues of the problems inherent in raising the wage floor,” wrote O’Roark and Wood.

During the time period the authors examined, 36 of the 535 members of Congress had a degree in economics.

“There might be more sanity to the legislative process if the rest of Congress knew something about economics,” said O’Roark.