Seattle approves $15 minimum wage, higher unemployment

June 3, 2014
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Seattle minimum wage proponent

I wrote about this last week, when it was still just a proposal, noting how some businesses were already slowing hiring and moving out of the city, and how even progressives were coming to have second thoughts.

Well, they did it:

Seattle’s city council on Monday unanimously approved an increase in the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, making it the nation’s highest by far.

The increase was formally proposed by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, and his spokesman said he intends to sign the ordinance on Tuesday.

Washington already has the nation’s highest state-level minimum wage, at $9.32. That rate also applies to the city.

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, and Democrats in Congress have been pushing for a gradual increase to $10.10, but so far to little effect.

The increase to $15 in Seattle will take place over several years based on a scale that considers the size of and benefits offered by an employer. It will apply first to many large businesses in 2017 and then to all businesses by 2021.

The first increase, on April 1, 2015, brings the minimum wage to $10 for some businesses and $11 for others.

While the law phases in increases starting only with “large businesses,” that designation includes franchises. In other words, if you’re a franchisee with only a couple of Taco Bells, you’re still considered a large employer because you’re part of a large chain; even though your revenue only comes from two locations, you’re still on the hook for $15 per hour starting in 2017. You’re welcome.

This is going to be a good experiment (and, dare I say it? A “teachable moment?”) for several reasons. Advocates of raising the wage say it’s only fair, that minimum wage earners aren’t paid enough to live on, and that the costs to society will be minimal as businesses adjust. And there is some little evidence for the latter, as we have indeed learned to live with the costs previous minimum wage increases. (Whether those wage increases have been worth the costs, however, is another argument for another time.) Advocates in Seattle argue that raising the wage will help around 100,000 people.

Critics, on the other hand (and including your humble correspondent), argue that the laws of economics cannot be repealed by legislative fiat: raise the cost of labor, and businesses will be faced with a choice from among four options — pass the costs on to the consumer; reduce labor costs by cutting hours or whole jobs; eat the costs and accept lower profits; or cease doing business in that jurisdiction, either by moving or closing shop. We’ve already seen in the Seattle case that some businesses are moving to nearby towns that have not raised their wage. And, here in California, where the wage was recently raised to $9 per our and there is a proposal to raise it statewide to $13, some businesses are closing, choosing to put their capital to work where they can get a better return on investment. In each case, these are jobs lost.

Critics also maintain that raising the cost of labor gradually prices out the unskilled, such as teens looking for their first jobs, where they can acquire valuable skills and habits for later, better-paying work. A very interesting piece at AEI (h/t Andrew Garland in the Sister Toldjah comments section) argues for this very point by examining the effects on teen hiring as the minimum wage rose 41% between 2007 and 2009:

And that’s exactly what happened when the minimum wage rose by 41% between 2007 and 2009 – it had a disastrous effect on teenagers. The jobless rate for 16-19 year olds increased by ten percentage points, from about 16% in 2007 to more than 26% in 2009.  Of course, the overall US jobless rate was increasing at the same time, from about 5% to 10%. Therefore, the graph attempts to better isolate the effects of the minimum wage increases between 2007 and 2009 on teenagers by plotting the difference between the teenage jobless rate and the overall jobless rate, i.e. “excess teen unemployment,” and the minimum wage.

During the 2002-2007 period when the minimum wage was $5.15 per hour, teenage unemployment exceeded the national jobless rate by about 11% on average. Each of the three minimum wage increases was accompanied by a 2 percentage point increase in the amount that the teenage jobless rate exceeded the overall rate, from 11 to 13% after the 2007 increase from $5.15 to $5.85 per hour, from 13% to 15% following the second hike to $6.55 per hour, and from 15% to 17% following the last increase to $7.25. The 17.5% “excess teen unemployment” in October 2009 was the highest on record, going back to at least 1972, and was almost 5 percent higher than the peak teen jobless rate gap following the last recession (12.7% in June 2003).

Bottom Line: Artificially raising wages for unskilled workers reduces the demand for those workers at the same time that it increases the number of unskilled workers looking for work, which results in an excess supply of unskilled workers. Period. And another term for an “excess supply of unskilled workers” is an “increase in the teenage jobless rate.”

It will be interesting and edifying how Seattle’s experiment in progressive labor law plays out. I suspect it won’t have nearly the benefit that advocates like Seattle Mayor Murray or California State Senator Leno predict.

And it’s a shame others have to suffer for their hubris.

RELATED: This Center for Freedom and Prosperity video provides a good overview of why minimum wage laws are job killers.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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Seattle: $15 minimum wage already costing jobs

May 28, 2014
"But at least we won the election! Obama!!"

“But at least we raised the minimum wage!”

And it’s not even in effect, yet.

But, it’s not surprising. Business managers have to plan for the future, and a looming huge increase in their labor cost will force many to rethink how they do business in Seattle, if they continue to do business there at all. Writing for the free-market Washington Policy Center, Erin Shannon reports on how small businesses are planning to cut back on hiring, delaying expansion, or moving out of the city to deal with the new wage law. Most striking, though, is the account of one business owner who supported the law, but now thinks she may have made a mistake:

One of those business owners is a well-known and active supporter of “progressive” labor policies, including a higher minimum wage. Jody Hall, owner of Cupcake Royale, initially supported a $15 minimum wage. But now Hall admits the proposed policy is, “keeping me up at night like nothing ever has.”

While Hall has serious concerns with Mayor Ed Murray’s plan to phase in a $15 minimum wage over seven years with a temporary tip credit, her biggest fear is if voters approve the radical charter amendment sponsored by the group 15Now. The charter amendment would force all large employers to begin paying $15 in 2015, and would give small business owners just three years to acclimate to the high wage. And the 15Now proposal would not allow for any tip credit.

If the charter amendment passes, Hall says she would be forced to close half of her seven locations and lay off 50 of her 100 workers.

But beyond the differences between Mayor Murray’s proposal or the more aggressive 15Now proposal, Hall says she now has “serious second thoughts” about a $15 minimum wage in general, especially since Seattle would be “going it alone” with a wage that is significantly higher than any other minimum wage in the nation.

Hall’s second thoughts about a $15 minimum wage have led to second thoughts about expanding her business. She was set to open a new business in Seattle this year, but has tabled the plan until after voters have their say on the charter amendment in the November election. Hall says if she considers any new locations before then, they will be outside the city limits.

In other words, when progressivism meets economic reality, guess which wins? You would think a successful businesswoman like Hall would have seen this coming. Maybe she thought she’d get a waiver from Obama.

And pay special attention to her comment about “going it alone.” As minimum wage increases are applied and then have the same effect in various places, there will be more and more calls from the fairness crowd to apply these laws statewide and even nationwide, to make sure business owners can’t just move to a friendlier jurisdiction, which would be “unfair.” The minimum wage thus becomes a wedge issue in an attack on local control, federalism, and jurisdictional competition, things progressive just hate, because their favored policies usually fail.

Meanwhile, I want to thank Seattle for volunteering to be a case study on the foolishness of government control of wages.

via Adrian Moore

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)