By DAVID GROVES
(Aug. 16, 2016) — Today’s edition of The Seattle Times features an opinion column, “Raising minimum wage would drive out youngest workers,” written by Preston Cooper of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank based in New York. Ironically, it makes a pretty strong case for passage of Initiative 1433, which would raise the state minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020 and allow all workers in Washington state to earn paid sick days:
“If it passes, and it likely will, many workers would get a raise… Proponents of minimum-wage increases argue that their effect on job availability is limited… there is some evidence to support this… Washingtonians understandably want to see higher wages for their fellow workers.”
Selective excerpting aside, Cooper claims that young workers will get priced out of the job market by I-1433 and suggests that the state Department of Labor and Industries should exempt young workers from the benefits of the higher minimum wage.
“Federal law permits workers under the age of 20 to earn no less than $4.25 an hour for their first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment,” writes Cooper. “But since more restrictive state laws supersede federal laws, young Washingtonians cannot take advantage of this exemption.”
Before Washington state officials rush to help young people take advantage of jobs paying no less than $4.25 an hour, perhaps we should consider whether the dire predictions by Cooper and the Manhattan Institute are likely to come true. After all, sky-is-falling claims of job loss get tossed around any time anybody suggests doing anything to help working people.
And sure enough, this one defies our shared experience.
If higher minimum wages price younger workers out of the job market, then states with higher minimum wages would have higher youth unemployment, right?
The five states with the highest youth unemployment rates in 2015 were West Virginia (17.4%; $8.00 minimum wage), South Carolina (16.2%; $7.25), Georgia (14.6%; $5.15!), Mississippi (14.5%; $7.25), and North Carolina (14.3%; 7.25).
In 2015, Washington still had the highest state minimum wage in the nation at $9.47, though we no longer hold that distinction. The state’s youth unemployment rate that year was 11.7%, ranking us 23rd in the nation.
Cooper would likely argue that other economic factors explain the clear lack of correlation between higher minimum wages and youth unemployment. Exactly! Whatever those factors are — and they seem to be abundant in the low-wage anti-union South — they must have a far greater impact on youth unemployment than the minimum wage.
Perhaps we should also consider the source here.
The Manhattan Institute that employs Cooper is part of the State Policy Network that, like our very own Freedom Foundation, pushes the right-wing conservative agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The Center for Media and Democracy explains how its funding is traced back to the billionaire Koch brothers.
In fact, young Mr. Cooper got hired at the Manhattan Institute last year on the strength of his stint as their “Koch Summer Fellow.” At press time, I wasn’t able to determine whether he got to take advantage of earning $4.25 an hour.
David Groves is Editor of The Stand.