UW’s Minimum Wage Study Was Bad, But the Media Pile-On Was Worse

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If you were within eyeshot of the internet, Fox News, or a copy of USA Today lately, you’d think that the jig is up–the $15 minimum wage that workers fought and won a few years back has destroyed Seattle. Low-wage workers are being fired left and right, and what increases in pay they made have been swallowed up by the invisible hand of the free market. The leftists of Seattle flew too close to the sun and Economics 101 has come home to roost.

Or at least, that’s what you would think if you read only a cursory bit of the coverage on a recent study by a team at the University of Washington on the “negative” effects of the minimum wage raise.

There are myriad reasons why the study is flawed, and more-qualified economists and academics have covered them at great length. In brief, here are the consequential decisions the UW researchers made that helped them find the bad results they were looking for:

  • The study didn’t count people who worked for employers with more than one location (e.g. a chain restaurant; workers like this account for 40% of the workforce).
  • The study counted people who left jobs with single-location employers (e.g. a mom-and-pop coffee shop) for jobs with multi-location employers (e.g.  Starbucks) as a lost job, not as no change.
  • The study counted anyone who went from making below $19 an hour to making above $19 an hour as a job loss.

Because the researchers cherry-picked ranges, the study magnified overall job-loss effects to ten times higher than the average in 942 other published minimum wage and non-minimum wage estimates. The fatally-flawed study ought to be be completely dismissed as an intentional right-wing smear job meant to weaken the Fight for $15.

Of course, the mainstream corporate media isn’t reporting any of these valid critiques. All week, the stories told by right-wing think tanks and those carried by the editorial boards of major news outlets were nearly indistinguishable. For example:

USA Today

In ‘Fight for $15,’ Seattle loses

Forbes

Seattle Reveals The Ugly Truth About The $15 Minimum Wage Movement

Washington Post

A ‘very credible’ new study on Seattle’s $15 minimum wage has bad news for liberals

The Daily Caller
Study: Seattle’s $13 Minimum Wage Has Hurt Low-Income Workers
The Seattle PI

UW study: Seattle’s increased minimum wage hurts workers

The Wall Street Journal

Seattle Workers Pay for the Minimum Wage

Not only did they fail to cover many of the critiques of the study, many (like the Washington Post’s) incorrectly reported that the study was commissioned by the City of Seattle. In fact, the city commissioned a different study. This new study was funded by the Arnold Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Enron trader turned hedge-fund billionaire John Arnold. His agenda includes pushing charter schools and destroying public pension benefits for profit.

Many of the stories failed to properly address that Seattle unemployment is at a historic low of 2.5%, even while workers’ wages are growing at a rate almost unsurpassed nationwide.

None of this should come as a surprise. The owners of these publications (Jeff Bezos at the Washington Post; Rupert Murdoch at Fox) all have the same opinion when it comes to low-wage workers: they cannot be allowed to succeed.

Powerful men always want to keep workers weak, and now they have the excuse they’ve been waiting for: a “rigorous” academic study published by right-wing economists that lets the rich thumb their noses at workers and reinforce the idea that raising workers’ wages and expanding their rights in the workplace is bad for workers. One doesn’t have to go far back in history to find the New York Times writing furiously about the damage that the eight-hour workday would do to the American economy.

But of course, we know better, because we are winning. Through the hard work of Fight for $15 and other workers’ rights movements, over 20 million people have gained raises through the Fight for $15, and even more workers are gaining access to paid sick and family leave and fair scheduling protections. The same week the aforementioned study came out, Minneapolis passed the $15 minimum wage, and municipalities like Oregon and Washington, D.C. increased their minimum wages.

The ruling class will continue to publish misinformation, because they know they have a lot to lose as workers gain power. Money only looks out for money, and workers have to keep looking out for each other.