When Seattle agreed to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, they were hailed as a harbinger of things to come, a visionary city that was out to protect its workers. But a recent study says the wage hike meant to help workers may actually be hurting them instead.
University of Washington researchers looked at what happened when wages were increased to $13 per hour in 2016. The consensus: overall, low-wage workers saw their hours worked per week drop about 9 percent, representing an average of $125 per month less than they had been making.
Jacob Vigdor, one of the study’s authors, told CNN: “For every $1 worth of increased wages, we are seeing $3 worth of lost employment opportunities…”
Both sides of the minimum wage argument have glommed onto this study to make their case. Those opposed are quickly pointing fingers and loudly shouting, “See! Told you so!” Meanwhile, supporters of minimum wage increases are saying “It’s only one study, and it doesn’t pay enough attention to detail or context.”
Many of the proponents of the wage increases also point to another study, this one out of the University of California, which came to very different conclusions. The difference in the two studies is that the California study looked specifically at restaurant employees, while the Washington study focused on a wide spectrum across the job market.
Still, others took a different approach. They said studies should focus on job loss, not on reduced hours, which, they argue, may not be directly related to what they see as a relatively minimal increase. The Economic Policy Institute’s Ben Zipperer said something similar to CNN:
“There is a large body of research that shows modest increases in the minimum wage boost wages for low-income workers without causing job loss, and nothing in the UW study suggests we should revise those conclusions…”
But what are the workers actually saying? Well, if you ask many making at or near minimum wage, the story is the same: “We can’t make it on this paycheck.”
Those who oppose raising the minimum wage quickly fire back: “You’re not supposed to. Minimum wage jobs are not for supporting an adult, much less a family.”
And that’s where the battle lines are drawn. So far, both sides are taking what they want from both the Washington and California studies, creating narratives based on how they want to see the situation. It’s up to the rest of the public to decide who offers the most believable story.