EITC is better than the Minimum Wage
Suggesting that federal policy addressing low-wage work and low-income families has somehow failed because the minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation ignores the fact that we have moved away from a focus on the minimum wage — a policy with many flaws — and toward the earned-income tax credit. We shouldn’t be asking simply how much the real minimum wage has changed, but rather how much the combined income floor generated by the two policies has changed.
To provide an example, the blue line in the figure below shows the wages received by a single adult worker earning the minimum wage and working full time throughout the year. This can be interpreted as the income floor established by the minimum wage. The red line shows the level of family income when the earned-income tax credit for a family with two children is added (all in 2012 dollars). The lower line illustrates the income consequences of the real decline in the minimum wage. But the upper line shows that, because of the sharp increase in the generosity of the earned-income tax credit, the combined effect of the two policies is that the real income of this family is as high or higher than it was in past decades — when the real minimum wage was relatively high — and much higher than it was in most of the intervening years.