Governing Magazine: Seattle’s High Minimum Wage “Comes at a Cost to Some Workers”

Seattle’s minimum wage experiment continues to draw national attention. In Governing magazine, Alan Greenblatt writes that the increased minimum has come with some consequences. Though he qualifies his conclusion, his lead paragraphs sum up most of what we know.

Nothing is free, especially things that cost money. That may sound blindingly obvious, but the idea that Seattle’s minimum-wage increases have come at a significant cost to some workers has generated a fair amount of controversy.

Seattle was at the vanguard of the movement to increase the minimum wage to levels as high as $15 an hour. Researchers at the University of Washington have been studying the effects on employment as the wage has gradually ticked up. What they have found is that low-income workers who log longer hours and are more experienced have seen a boost in pay, but those with less experience are finding fewer jobs open to them.

Greenblatt cites studies that have challenged the UW analysis. We’ve written of some of these critiques – unpersuasive at best – here, here, and here. Greenblatt draws a fair conclusion.

It’s possible to agree that companies can afford to pay workers a higher minimum wage, and that such increases provide workers with needed raises, while also acknowledging that higher salaries are a cost some employers will seek to avoid with reduced hiring.

He lets Jacob Vigdor, a UW economist involved in the minimum wage research, have the last word.

…in Vigdor’s view, employers paying a premium may be reluctant to take on inexperienced workers and offer them on-the-job training. “There are minimum-wage advocates that are sticking to the position that there are no trade-offs,” he says. “Our evidence weakens the case that it’s a win-win for everybody.”

Clearly not a win-win for everyone. And, based on recent minimum wage increases, that’s a lesson that’s likely to be learned, sometimes painfully, across the country.