Prevailing Wage Laws: What Do We Know?

Institute for Construction Economics Research (ICERES)

In recent years, states and municipalities have been increasingly engaged in heated, often partisan, debates over the future of prevailing wage laws. In addition to the repeal of state prevailing wage laws in West Virginia and Kentucky, there have been high-profile political challenges in several states including Wisconsin and Nevada. Numerous city councils and county commissioners have been concurrently engaged in similar debates regarding local prevailing wage ordinances. References to economic studies often accompany these calls for legislative action, as advocates on both sides of the debate can point to papers supporting their position. The lack of consensus among researchers, however, is mostly attributable to differences in empirical methodology and scientific rigor. To improve the clarity of future public policy debates on prevailing wage laws, this paper summarizes the current state of research on these policies, highlighting recent academic findings and identifying empirical shortcomings inherent in a number of oft-cited non-academic studies.

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