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Seattle minimum wage study tries to flip the script—and reality

Using contorted accounting, a new report on Seattle’s minimum wage aims to convince us that more jobs and higher wages are bad for us.


The following is from Working Washington:

SEATTLE (June 29, 2017) — You may have seen a story or two about the latest anti-minimum wage study. This report finds Seattle has more people with more jobs paying higher wages — and somehow manages to twist that real life prosperity into a negative economic indicator!

It’s absurd.

Seattle is among the very fastest-growing large cities in the country. Jobs are up. Unemployment is below 3 percent. Restaurants are opening at a torrid clip. Competition for workers is so intense that business owners say their biggest problem is finding staff. And the local economy is growing so fast that managing that growth has become one of the top local political issues.

In fact, just about the only way to find a negative economic indicator in a city with such a self-evidently strong job market is to leave out a whole lot of workers and a whole lot of jobs. And that’s exactly what this misleading report does: it only counts jobs at businesses that have a single location, that haven’t expanded, that pay less than $19/hour, and that don’t use a third-party payroll processor to submit reports to the state.

If that sounds strange… it is. But it’s exactly the kind of absurd accounting you need to bank on if you’re determined to find negative economic signs in Seattle.

Here are some examples of how this report manipulates the data beyond recognition to reach its curious conclusions:

► If you work for a company like McDonald’s or Target or Pagliacci or Molly Moon or any other chain of any size, your job doesn’t count in this report. (Because it only counts businesses with a single location.)

► If you work for a small business that’s growing and opened a second location, your job counts as a job lost in this study. (Because the single-location jobs disappear in the report’s accounting when the second location opens and all the jobs turn into jobs a multi-location businesses.)

► If you work for a small business in Seattle that uses a payroll processor with a mailing address outside the city to submit payroll reports to the state, your job doesn’t count in this study. (Because it counts businesses based on the mailing addresses on their state reports, not the location of the work.)

► If you’re a front-line manager or another worker who got a raise above $19/hour for any reason, you count as a job lost in this study. (Because it only counts jobs paying less than $19/hour.)

► If you earn tips and your wages and tips combined are more than $19/hour, you count as a job lost in this study. (Again, because it only counts jobs paying less than $19/hour, including tips.)

► If you are one of the several thousand people working on Uber, Lyft, Instacart, or another app-based platform, your work and your income don’t count in this study. (Uber alone estimates about 10,000 drivers in the Seattle area, but this report doesn’t account for any of their work or wages.)

And with all that contorted accounting, the report still finds that there are more jobs paying more money — and still calls that a negative impact.

This report’s absurd effort to try and track down a single datapoint that can be construed as showing any negative impact of $15/hour does set a new standard in a way, but it’s just the latest of years of similar efforts by anti-minimum wage propagandists.

First they all predicted that higher wages would hurt the economy. Three years after voting to pass the nation’s first citywide $15/hour minimum wage law, Seattle is in the midst of a historic boom, so that argument doesn’t really work.

Then they tried to say that maybe the economy would be fine, but there would definitely be fewer jobs. Seattle’s unemployment has reached record lows, so that argument doesn’t really work either.

Then they tried to say that maybe jobs would be OK, but there would definitely be fewer restaurants. Seattle’s restaurant industry is thriving — even their industry lobby group says their biggest issue is hiring enough workers to keep up with demand. So that argument doesn’t really work either.

These folks keep on moving the goalposts, and they’re running out of room.

And yet even with all that context and track record, it’s still startling just how narrow this latest effort gets: jobs at businesses that only have a single location, that haven’t expanded, that process their own payroll, that provide the state a mailing address that can be geocoded, and that pay less than $19/hour.

Then, when even this narrowly tailored subset of a subset of the job market shows fewer low-wage jobs and more jobs overall, it gets described as a negative impact of raising the wage?!

That’s nonsense. It’s impressive ideological work. But it’s nonsense.

And really, when the trickle-down crew has to keep on redefining their universe smaller and smaller, and count jobs in this ludicrous way, we ought to take it as a sign of success on the minimum wage. Because even those who start out assuming a higher minimum wage is bad for the economy, and are determined to prove it, are having an awfully hard time concocting a single datapoint that helps their case.

That’s because in the real world, higher wages help boost the whole economy: after all, when more people have more money it means more customers for more businesses. And that’s why the sky in real-life Seattle remains aloft.

Working Washington unites working people to fight for a fair economy where everyone can support themselves, afford the basics, and contribute to the economy. It launched the fast food strikes that sparked the fight for $15 in Seattle; helped lead the successful campaign to pass $15 in SeaTac; and works in coalition with unions, faith groups, and grassroots organizations to hold corporations and politicians accountable to community needs.

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!