Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Seattle hits some bumps on the path to a $15 minimum wage

Two years ago I blogged about the $15 minimum wage.  At that time the mainstream view among economists was that federal and state minimum wage laws had a modest, negative impact on employment.  The wave of $15 minimums passed recently by numerous cities is uncharted territory because (1) the increases are so large and at such variance from federal and state minimums and (2) many businesses -- especially those in service industries -- can easily relocate to avoid paying the higher wage.

We now are getting the first wave of economic research looking at the impact of the $15 minimum.  At the beginning of this year, companies with more than 500 employees in Seattle had to pay a minimum wage of $15 an hour.  The minimum is now $11 for most other employers and will increase to $15 for all by 2021.  So what has been the impact on firms and workers?

A new study of the Seattle labor market has found that incomes of low wage workers have fallen since the minimum was hiked.  This has happened because employers cut back on work schedules.   Wages increased by 3% but hours fell by 9%, resulting in an overall drop in income of over $100m per year for low-wage workers.  Overall employment did not change, but employers substituted more highly skilled workers for low-wage workers which made the latter group worse off.

The Seattle study will continue and researchers will be looking at other cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco that have hit the $15 mark.  The sure winner from these minimum wage changes -- data-hungry labor economists.

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