Economy & Business

Seattle Progressives Stick Their Heads in the Sand on Minimum Wage

Signs at a minimum-wage protest march in Seattle, September 2013. (Reuters photo: David Ryder)
They cut funding for a study whose results they didn’t like.

Last month, a group of scholars commissioned by the city of Seattle to study the effects of hiking the minimum wage struck a blow at the national “fight for 15” movement.

Their findings, which were widely covered in the media, showed that Seattle’s $13 minimum wage — part of a gradual increase to $15 — had all the negative effects that opponents of the policy feared. Low-wage employees had their hours cut by 3.5 million in a single quarter, costing more than $120 million in lost wages. The average worker lost $1,500 of income per year, hardly something those struggling to support themselves or their families could afford.

When faced with this data, even left-leaning publications such as Slate questioned whether the “fight for 15” had gone too far and was hurting those it was intended to help. So what did the Seattle City Council do? They killed the messengers and stuck their head in the sand.

It turns out that Seattle stopped funding the University of Washington research team led by Jacob Vigdor last fall, after the council had seen preliminary results. (The contract was supposed to run for five years, but it relied on annual appropriations for funding.) Their replacement? Berkeley economics professor Michael Reich, whose research coincidentally shows that minimum-wage increases help low-income workers.

Obviously, they hoped the Reich study would cast doubts on the less-than-favorable results from the University of Washington. And Reich published his report the week before the UW team released its results to the public.

While human bias and cognitive dissonance are nothing new, the council’s blatant disregard for any viewpoint or data that contradict their preconceived worldview is astounding. But should it be? Studies have shown time and time again that a lack of ideological diversity leads to groupthink. And groupthink is prominently on display in Seattle.

City-council member and avowed socialist Kshama Sawant, for example, once assured attendees at a council meeting that she had no Republican friends — to rapturous applause from the liberal crowd. She also defended the council’s moves regarding the minimum-wage study, saying, “The moment we saw it was based on flawed methodology and was going to be unreliable, the Vigdor study no longer speaks for City Hall.”

In Seattle, it’s clear that tribalism and orthodoxy to the progressive cause have triumphed over basic facts and logic. But although pointing that out is an easy way to score political points, it misses the larger picture.

The most important aspect of the UW study isn’t that it confirms the economic theory that price floors decrease demand, in this case the demand for workers. It’s that Seattle’s minimum-wage policy leads to the least advantaged in society being hurt the most. Those who lost their jobs or saw their hours cut are trying to build a career for themselves in one of the most expensive cities in America, and the loss of income will have devastating effects on themselves and their families.

Prioritizing progressive virtue-signaling over these people’s lives is truly horrifying behavior.

Prioritizing progressive virtue-signaling over these people’s lives is truly horrifying behavior.

But not all politicians, even liberal ones, have decided to make the same cold calculus. Current Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh, who initially ran on the “fight for 15” platform, now opposes such a dramatic increase to the minimum wage. She even vetoed a bill that would have mandated a $15 wage in 2022. Explaining her veto, Pugh said, “I want people to earn better wages, but I also want my city to survive.”

If progressive politicians truly want to help those in need, they should critically examine the results of the policies implemented around the country, rather than simply buying the party line. While the politicians who stick their heads in the sand may be able to cope with their bad decisions, those who are affected by those bad decisions might not.


An Alternative to Increasing the Minimum Wage

Magical Thinking about Minimum Wages

Consequences of San Franciso’s Minimum Wage Hike

— Eric Peterson is a senior policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity.

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