Posts by Hanna Brooks Olsen

Kim Wyman’s Campaign Is A Cautionary Tale

washington secretary of state

The Secretary of State’s office is not a particularly sexy one; stop a person on 5th Avenue in Seattle and ask “hey stranger, who’s the Secretary of State?” and they will either name John Kerry or give you a blank stare.

This general lack of enthusiasm and recognition likely would have been beneficial for current Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman in her reelection campaign. Wyman, a Republican, holds a seat that has been (strangely) kept out of the hands of Democrats for nearly 50 years, and she could possibly have sailed into her second term on a hope and a prayer were it not for two key factors:

1.) Her opponent and

2.) Herself.

Way back in January—well before the primaries were even started in earnest—former Seattle City Councilmember and tech-sector leader Tina Podlodowski announced she would be challenging Wyman. Podlodowski’s campaign focused on expanding voting access (one of her first ads featured footage of Wyman saying she would not support the Washington Voting Rights Act), streamlining elections, and saving taxpayers money.

A major part of Podlodowski’s campaign against Wyman has been undermining Wyman’s time in office; she’s cited low voter turnout, a lack of ballot boxes, and the frustration voters felt over the caucus system in the spring. In September, she uncovered a glaring error in the state’s voter database that could have resulted in a data breach—and seemed to pin its existence on Wyman’s inattention.

Podlodowski has turned what might have otherwise been Wyman’s sleepy cruise into incumbency into an actual race. But she’s not even Wyman’s biggest enemy, as the last few days have demonstrated.

Despite netting endorsements from many of the local newspapers, Wyman’s earned media has largely been soured by her own record. After the Everett Herald wrote that she “deserves another term,” Rep. Luis Moscoso wrote in to correct their editorial, stating that “Wyman didn’t step up” on voting rights.

In attempt to turn the tide in her favor last week, Wyman made her first major announcement of the campaign—using the recent, deadly shooting at the Cascade Mall as a springboard, Wyman’s office released a proposal to require identification and proof of citizenship paperwork to register to vote.

“During this past week, questions were raised about the citizenship of Arcan Cetin, who confessed to murdering five people at Cascade Mall in Burlington,” read the release from the SoS’s office. “He registered in 2014 and voted in three elections. On each of those occasions, he affirmed that he was a U.S. citizen and met the other qualifications to be a voter. The penalty of registration and voter fraud is a prison term of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.”

Unfortunately for Wyman, Cetin’s citizenship had been verified just hours before her slated announcement; as a result, the proposal seemed desperate and in poor taste.

Voter ID laws are kind of a conservative (read: racist) dogwhistle—except for the fact that just about everyone can hear them, which means the announcement was sure to turn off some of the moderate folks that Wyman would need to win the entire state. To try to play both sides, Wyman’s announcement was slated as “bipartisan,” and included a provision for automatic voter registration. Unfortunately, that part of the story was quickly buried by all of the rest of it and likely didn’t win anyone over.

And then there’s today’s October surprise—a complaint filed by the Washington Attorney General’s Office alleging numerous instances of campaign finance reporting violations. They aren’t massive and they aren’t especially shady, but they are sloppy. And there are a lot of them.

Which doesn’t exactly bode well, considering the job that Wyman is trying to keep.

Up and down, Wyman has shown that campaigning is not her forte—unfortunately, in an office that oversees campaigns and elections, that seems like a pretty huge problem. Sure, you could say it’s just paperwork, but then what is the job of Secretary of State if not paperwork?

Wyman’s campaign isn’t a complete disaster, but it is a cautionary tale; public disclosure in Washington is watched closely and taken seriously, and paperwork needs to be filed in a timely manner. If Wyman can’t manage to do it on the campaign trail, it’s hard to say if she’ll be able to do it in office.

Chris Christie Is In The Minority On Minimum Wage

chris christie minimum wage

Yesterday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie did two things that surprised no one: He went to a Springsteen concert and he shot down the NJ legislature’s attempt to raise the statewide minimum wage to $15.

What do these two things have in common? Both Springsteen and raising the minimum wage are very popular with The Common Person. And while Governor Christie appears to be on the right side of history with his love of the Boss (he claims to have seen the man in concert over 100 times), he’s swimming upstream in his opposition to an increased minimum wage.

Chris Christie knows all the words

A video posted by Luc Cohen (@luccohen92) on

In his statement about the decision, Christie cited speed of the increase—to $15 over five years— as his reason for vetoing the bill, stating that it “fails to consider the capacity of businesses, especially small businesses, to absorb the substantially increased labor costs it will impose” adding that it would be responsible for “killing jobs and erasing gains of more than 275,000 private sector jobs since 2010.”

Aside: He said “killing jobs”! Do a shot!

The New Jersey business community immediately rushed to express support for the decision; the New Jersey Business & Industry Association agreed with Christie, calling the proposed increase “too much, too fast.”

Which is basically exactly what business leaders always say—whatever you propose, regardless of the phase-in period or any other considerations, it’s too much and it’s too fast.

How much of a minimum increase would be just right? That’s a little harder to pinpoint (since, you know, trickle-downers are pretty slippery) but thanks to leaked polling from this spring, we know that the support—even in the business community!—is definitely there80% of respondents to a survey for business owners said they supported an increase to their state’s wage.

If business owners are anything like regular people—and let’s assume they are, since that’s what they always tell us—they probably support a minimum wage of at least $12 or more, depending on which polling you look at.

For literal decades, a majority of Americans have stated that they support raising the minimum wage—and the degree of the increase has been going up and up over time.

A 2013 Gallup poll found that over 70% of Americans supported an increase to $9 per hour.

“Raising the federal minimum wage is typically a crowd pleaser when it comes to policy prescriptions, and Obama’s proposal to push the rate from the current $7.25 to $9 is no exception,” wrote Gallup at the time. “The 71% vs. 27% balance of U.S. public opinion in favor of passing it is convincing, particularly when considering that even half of Republicans are in favor.”

Just one year later, a Pew poll reported that 73% of respondents said they’d support $10.10 per hour (which is just slightly more than findings from a Rutgers poll which looked just at New Jersey voters).

A Rasmussen poll from this year found that 71% supported an increase of over $9.50, and 59% want at least $12.50. That poll also found just 12% support for a full $15—but in the same month, a HuffPo/YouGov survey was released which reported that 48% of respondents supported $15.

Which is to say: Public support for increasing the minimum wage has been strong for years, and as income inequality increases and the poor get pushed further to the margins, the voting public is looking for something more sweeping than just $9 or $10.10. Within a few more years—like, around the time that California, New York, and Oregon’s wages hit their full peak—it’s not unlikely that the majority of supporters will get behind wages of $13.50 or more.

Hell, even Christie’s #MCM political ally, Donald Trump, recently switched his position ever so slightly to propose a slight increase to the minimum wage. Why? Because Trump knows how to please people, and this is what the people want.

And while most the people may not be quite on board with a federal $15 yet, that’s kind of what state and local lawmakers are for—to do things that are future-thinking and will go down in the history books as good things that helped people right at home.

Christie may think he’s pleasing the business community with this vote, but when voters in New Jersey head to the ballot with an increase (which they’ve pledged to do, much like Maine, Washington, Colorado, and Arizona), it seems like he may realize just how wrong he is on this issue.

Study: Raising the Minimum Wage Is Good For Babies

minimum wage infant mortality

We already know that increasing the minimum wage would help working familiesreduce childhood poverty (and thus, make kids healthier), and generally make life better for parents and kids. But a new public health survey released in May found that the impact of raising the minimum wage isn’t just positive for families as a unit—according to the study, a raise of just $1 could actually reduce infant mortality.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, sought to “investigate the effects of state minimum wage laws on low birth weight and infant mortality in the United States,” according to the authors, Kelli A. Komro, PhD, MPH, Melvin D. Livingston, PhD, Sara Markowitz, PhD, and Alexander C. Wagenaar, PhD. 

Their findings?

“If all states in 2014 had increased their minimum wages by 1 dollar, there would likely have been 2790 fewer low birth weight births and 518 fewer postneonatal deaths for the year.”

All things told, the researchers found, that same dollar increase would decrease infant mortality by as much as 4%.

This is hardly the first study that’s linked higher wages to improved public health. A 2015 report published in The Nation’s Health, Minnesota State Health Commissioner Edward Ehlinger called the state’s minimum-wage increase a greater benefit to public health than a tobacco tax increase enacted that same year. From that report:

“If you look at the conditions that impact health, income is right at the top of the list,” Ehlinger said. “Anything we can do to help enhance economic stability will have a huge public health benefit. This is a major public health issue.”

It’s not a huge surprise; wealth and public health are linked in a variety of ways.

People living in poverty are more susceptible to obesity, heart disease, and lower life expectancy. And while these links are due to myriad factors, almost all of them can be solved or at least ameliorated just by putting a little extra money into peoples’ pockets. From greater access to basic necessities, like housing that isn’t infested with mold or pests or food that’s high in nutritional value and low in fats, sugars, and preservatives, to more nuanced lifestyle changes, like regular exercise or cleaner air, the ability to spend more of your income to better your environment has a huge impact on the lives of working individuals and families.

Additionally, the direct link between poverty and infant mortality is well established, particularly in urban areas. One 2015 report found that children born to poor families in Washington, D.C., are 10 times more likely to die in infancy than babies born to the area’s most wealthy.

Ten. Times.

It would be willfully ignorant, then, to assume that allowing workers to put in full 40-hour workweeks (or more) while paying poverty wages wouldn’t, in some way, impact the health and wellness of infants and children—and even moreso to assume that fighting minimum wage increases would somehow help, rather than continue to harm, poor families and their children.

Conservative lawmakers may love to tout the ways their poverty platforms are “good for families,” but until they propose literally just paying people more money for the work they’re already doing, those plans not only ignore the lived experience of the working poor, they ignore the science, as well.

 

With a Tipped Wage, Customers Are Stuck Picking Up the Tab

tipped wage unfair

I have written before about tip crediting and how I wish more politicians—specifically, those who are running for, you know, President—would come out against it. At the time, I noted that it’s a policy which fosters the race and gender income gap by disproportionately impacting women, which remains true.

What I did not mention—because, I don’t know, it didn’t seem to bear repeating—was that it’s also actually just kind of mind-boggling that anyone would argue in favor of a wage of just shy of three American dollars per hour in a place like Washington, DC, where the tipped wage is $2.77 and the minimum wage is $10.50.

For a full-time worker, that’s a paycheck of a scant $443.20 per month.

$443.20.

Per.

Month.

Of course, the assumption with the tipped wage is that a server is probably making the $7.73 in tips she’d need to to round herself up to $10.50 (if not, her employer is required to float the rest although anyone who’s looked into this in even a cursory manner could tell you that often doesn’t happen).

Again, let’s look closely at that:

  • Base wage: $2.77 per hour
  • Required tipped income to make minimum wage: $7.73 per hour
  • Total base wages required to be paid by employer:  $22.16
  • Total required tips to even make minimum wage per eight-hour shift: $61.84

Which means a) as a patron in Washington DC you’re expected to float restaurant owners to the tune of 73.6% of their employee payroll costs, and b) as a server, your actual base wage is less important than the amount of money you can pull from a customer’s wallet.

If this is surprising to you, you’re not alone; D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has recently proposed a change to the area’s minimum wage laws, which would raise the base minimum wage to $15 over several years, and gradually increase the tipped wage from $2.77 to $7.50 over the next six years.

DC has been gradually increasing its base wage, but not its tipped wage, since 2013.

In the previous times I’ve written about this subject, I didn’t feel the need to go into too deep of detail on what the sub-minimum wage actually looks like and how truly bonkers it is, because I assumed (wrongly) that most people can see what a clearly ineffective system this is—a system which allows restaurants to charge whatever they like, keep most of the money because they’re not paying it in payroll costs, and expect customers to cover the bulk of the costs not only by paying their tab but by tipping their server.

Forgetting the fact that tipping’s history is racist as hell, this seems antithetical to what we typically think of as the point of tipping. Tipping is meant to be for a job well done, not so that a server isn’t making what is very obviously an unlivable wage.

Whether or not you believe in abolishing tipping, balancing the budget on the backs of tips—essentially relying on the kindness of restaurant patrons—seems like a poor way to do business.

And yet, there are people who will fight tooth and nail to convince you that this is a system that works. Like this guy from a fake think-tank, who recently wrote a piece in the Washington Post going to bat for the tipped wage in DC. Here’s what he had to say:

In reality, those take-home wages for tipped employees are many times larger than the required hourly minimum. In testimony before the D.C. Council, restaurateurs in the District reported that their employees earned anywhere from $20 to $35 an hour when tips were included. (If a server sells $100 in food, he typically gets an 18 percent to 20 percent tip; the restaurant may make 5 percent profit on a $100 meal.)

Of course restauranteurs would testify that their servers are raking it in with their tips. They’re literally financially incentivized to say that.

This particular fellow goes on to note that increasing the tipped wage from $2.77 to $7.50 (because that’s the proposal on the table) “threatens [DC’s] vibrant foodie culture”:

It’s easy to forget during a bustling Friday night, but the average profit margin at a full-service restaurant is in the low single digits. Labor costs make up about one-third of restaurant expenses. Nearly tripling the hourly wage for tipped employees would force dramatic changes in service, food prices and employment levels.

This is uncomfortable, I know, but stick with me:

Restaurant owners are actually not entitled to turn a profit.

There! I said it! Turning a profit as a restaurant owner is not something that is required by law. No one owes you a profitable business—and if paying just a quarter of your servers’ total salaries is what’s holding your business together and expecting patrons to literally pick up the tab on the rest, maybe your business model sucks.

What is required by law is that workers who do work are entitled to be paid for that work, and the current law is only barely requiring employers to do that. If they make 18% off a $100 tab, bully for them. That’s great. However, there are plenty of DC servers who are decidedly not working in restaurants where the tabs are routinely $100.

According to a 2015 report from PayScale, the median income for a server is about $13.80 per hour; over 60% of their income is from tips, which means they actually only earn about $8.50 in tips per hour on average.

The funny thing about averages is that they indicate that a whooooole lot of people are well below that figure.

Additionally, it’s important to note that $13.80 is only barely above the city’s actual minimum wage, and that $8.50 per hour in tips is only a hair over what is required by a server to essentially break even.

And yet, restaurant owners and anti-wage lobbyists insist that this is a fine system, that this works, and that it’s perfectly acceptable to require servers, bussers, bartenders, and other tipped workers to not only sing for their supper, but sing exceptionally, lest they barely be paid at all.

When you leave a tip, you expect that it’s an extra bonus for your server because they delivered a service well. With the tipped wage, though, you’re actually just paying their salary on behalf of their boss, who get to collect the money from the tab and from the cost-savings of not paying their employees.

And they expect you, as a customer, to be happy about it.

Can We Afford To Talk About Campaign Finance Reform Without Talking About Voting Rights?

voting rights campaign finance

On a sunny Saturday earlier this year, I stood across the street from Town Hall Seattle on an oil-stained driveway in front of a condo building I’ll never be able to afford as a man in Transitions® Lenses shouted at me about how Bernie Sanders was going to get money out of politics.

“He’s going to overturn Citizens United!” the man, who was caucusing for Sanders, yelled at our precinct. “He’s going to make sure that corporations can’t buy elections anymore!”

“And then what?” I asked.

“And then the billionaires can’t buy elections anymore!” the man stated triumphantly to applause.

That wasn’t exactly what I was asking.

This campaign promise has been a keystone for Sanders (Hillary Clinton’s campaign has stumbled on this talking point but has been refining it as the race trundles on) and it clearly resonated deeply with this man. On his campaign site, Sanders outlines his hope for the nation:

Our vision for American democracy should be a nation in which all people, regardless of their income, can participate in the political process, can run for office without begging for contributions from the wealthy and the powerful.

Which is, of course, an extremely great goal—but, in the absence of a plan to address another huge, looming issue that’s aggressively threatening democracy, it feels a little hollow. What I wanted to ask the man at my caucus, and what I’m still wondering about, is this: If you spend all of your energy rallying to get money out of politics, but at no point work to get more people involved in politics, what is the end result?

Or, put more simply: Can we afford to talk about campaign finance reform without talking about voting rights?

Interestingly, in August of 2015, Bernie Sanders has addressed this question directly:

We are facing a two-pronged attack on our democracy — unlimited money poured into the political process, paired with the systematic suppression of the vote.

These are two sides of the same coin.

This is so true! This is a great platform! This is a message that is extremely important! However, as the campaign has heated up, this side of the coin appears to have fallen away; on his main Issues page now, voting rights and attacks on voter suppression efforts are nowhere to be seen.

The idea of getting all people, regardless of their income, involved in politics is a paramount goal for true democracy—however, as long as we’re barring huge numbers of voters from registering, casting ballots, or running for office, it kind of doesn’t matter how much money is or isn’t being poured into campaigns because there will be neither the voters nor the candidates necessary to support or mount those campaigns. 

There are plenty of examples of times when millionaires and billionaires have tried to buy elections, only to find that it can’t always be done because voters are autonomous human beings with needs and desires and wishes.

Allow us to leap into our time machines to the halcyon days of 2015, long before anyone thought that a man with tiny hands and big dreams of bigotry as policy would ever be leading the pack. Here’s a bit from a piece in the Nation in May of last year:

A few weeks after Texas Senator Ted Cruz announced his candidacy, his Super PAC took in $31 million, thanks to the support of Long Island hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer. Florida Senator Marco Rubio has won a $10 million pledge to his Super PAC from the billionaire Miami auto dealer Norman Braman. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been asking donors to give $1 million a pop to his Super PAC, which expects to bring in $100 million by end of May, the most ever for an unannounced candidate this early in the process.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we now have a new piece of information, which is that Ted Cruz is trailing in delegates and Marco Rubio and Jeb! Bush have both already bowed out. Which goes to show that yes, campaign finance is serious business—but it’s also actually not enough to buy elections when the electorate isn’t interested in what you’re selling.

Jeb! serves as an easy example of this; in February, the Huffington Post calculated that his campaign spent about $2,800 per vote in Iowa just to come in sixth. From the piece:

That’s about 18 times as much money as first-place winner Ted Cruz spent for each vote he received. It’s also 34 times as much as silver medalist Donald Trump spent, and 10 times the amount spent by third-place winner Marco Rubio.

Yes, he outspent the eventual frontrunner for the GOP nomination (who’s basically funding his own campaign and making oodles of money doing it) by a factor of more than 30—just to lose spectacularly.

No amount of money seems to be able to slow the Trump Train; GOP superPACs are funneling tens of millions of dollars into anti-Trump ads and campaigns while his image improves and Cruz’s continues to nosedive.

The message of these examples is clear: Some campaigns are simply so power (or so wretched) that no amount of money can net the desired results.

This isn’t to say that campaign finance reform isn’t absolutely necessary—it is. Congressional leaders are required to do so much fundraising just to stay competitive that they are able to do very little actual lawmaking.

Candidates raise literal billions of dollars, most of which is spent funneling money into your local TV news station; according to Harper’s, “a week before this year’s New Hampshire primary, the contending campaigns had already spent $100 million there on TV ads.” Fundraisers, phone calls, door knocking, and other methods of squeezing money out of people are so time-consuming that legislators may not have time to show up and vote on bills. Which is clearly a problem.

There’s also the very apparent issue of dark money and shady campaign contribution practices; even with stronger campaign finance laws on the books, it would be silly to assume that organizations like ALEC would suddenly become lawful and compliant. Instead, what’s more likely is that the end result of many campaign finance reform policies will be that extremely wealthy contributors will just get craftier in how they work around them.

Which means that by focusing completely on “getting money out of politics”—and by dropping that nuanced but extremely salient connection between voting rights and campaign finance—we’re missing that entire other side to this conversation. We are failing to ask what that money even buys, and whose vote exists to be bought. Even in the event of total campaign finance reform, voter suppression—whether in the form of policies which make voting difficult or impossible, or through gerrymandering that all but ensures legislative district strongholds—will continue to plague the Democratic party and the left’s ability to get anything done or anyone elected.

There is a sort of chicken/egg issue at play, of course. A campaign finance system which benefits moneyed interests and helps them plant lawmakers who bend to their wishes and write policies which benefit them directly makes it difficult to pass voting rights reform—while voting rights reform can help take the wind out of the sails of even the most well-funded campaign.

That said, while it’s extremely difficult to expand voting rights, it’s certainly not impossible; between 1996 and 2008, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 28 states passed new laws on felon voting rights. All things told, the majority of states now re-enfranchise felons once their time is served (with a lot of other restrictions, including financial hurdles that are downright undemocratic)—and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe just recently announced his decision to restore the voting rights of over 200,000 felons (though Republicans announced today that they’d be filing a lawsuit to attempt to block him).

Meanwhile, new voting restrictions are being passed every year under the guise of “fending off voter fraud.” This year, 17 states will require voters to present ID just to vote, which disproportionately impacts turnout among African American folks and younger people. And despite boasting a Democratic Governor and House of Representatives, Washington State’s proposed Voting Rights Act—which would have allowed cities and counties to re-district based in a more egalitarian way, essentially ensuring that they could actually elect a representative body of officials—died on the floor in the 2016 session.

Why does this all matter? For Democrats, doubling down on the expansion of voting rights means literally increasing the number of people who can turn out and vote for their candidates and issues, regardless of how much money the opposition spends.

A 2003 study found that “survey data suggest that Democratic candidates would have received about seven out of every ten votes cast by this disenfranchised population in 14 of the last 15 Senate election years.” We’ve also seen the way that fights to make voting more inclusive have netted direct results; a years-long battle in Yakima, Washington, last year produced the city’s first Latina City Councilmembers in the city’s history.

Voter suppression can also shield lawmakers from unpopular decisions, ensuring that even largely-reviled policies aren’t enough to unseat them. In North Carolina, where HB2 (the trans bathroom bill that also preempts minimum wage increases by cities) is drawing international backlash, Congressional leaders may be able to weather the storm, according to a professor at North Carolina State University:

About 90 percent of the legislators that voted for the bill either face no challengers in their elections this fall or won their last election by more than 10 percentage points. In North Carolina, both parties have embraced gerrymandering — the drawing of election districts for partisan advantage — to such a degree that most incumbents face no challenge. For many, re-filing is effectively the same as being re-elected.

Which again, makes an important point: Regardless of spending on any side of a campaign, if the voters can’t show up to vote and have their votes be counted, it really doesn’t matter who’s funding what. And on the state level, that’s an extremely pressing issue.

Yes, I used two John Oliver clips because they are both relevant. 

Some of the worst laws we’ve seen come out of states—Indiana’s religious freedom act that legalizes discrimination against LGBTQ folks, the various TRAP laws and others which restrict abortion access or straight-up make abortions illegal—are the result not of big money being heaped upon these candidates, but rather, districts which make even running in one of these races a fool’s errand. From a 2014 piece in Mother Jones about Alabama (a state which is currently fighting against minimum wage increases):

One district in Montgomery—nearly 72 percent black and already represented by an African American Democratic senator—needed an additional 16,000 residents to make up for population loss since 2000. GOP map makers reconfigured the district to add 15,785 new residents. Only 36 of those new residents were white. While working hard to add every possible black voter in the vicinity to the district, legislators moved white people out of the district and creatively drew the map to exclude a majority-white area of Montgomery. The impact of the segregated redistricting on this month’s election was stark: The number of white Democrats in the state Senate fell from four to one.

On the other side of the districting issue is California who just recently managed to get a minimum wage increase through all of their legislature and out of the Governor’s office in no small part because of the anti-gerrymandering work by Democrats several years ago.

Because while money in politics certainly matters, in the absence of policies which ensure that voters can actually turn out and vote for people who look like them and care about the same issues as them and push the legislation that benefits them, campaign finance reform is extremely limited in its capabilities.

It would be great to “get big money out of politics” and make it so that “billionaires can’t buy elections,” but like basically everything else in politics, it’s simply not that simple. If we’re truly serious about shaking apart a broken system, we have to look at every side of every issue—and the other side of the campaign finance issue is voting rights.

The $15 Minimum Wage Is Apparently a Time Traveler

Raising the minimum wage is powerful. Powerful enough to lift millions out of poverty. Powerful enough to reduce dependence on social services, such as food stamps. And, apparently, powerful enough to go back in time and change unemployment numbers for teens and also spur lawmakers to create policies to address those numbers.

At least, that’s what the conservative bloggers over at ShiftWA seem to think—which would certainly explain their apparent fear of a minimum wage increase. I mean, if it’s so completely able to change the arc of time, what can’t it do?

teen unemployment minimum wage

Their most recent example of the minimum wage’s might is Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s youth employment initiative which, they say, is a direct response to the massive decline in youth employment as a direct result of the gradual ascent to $15. First pointed out by right-wing think tank the Washington Policy Center, the initiative is designed to help encourage businesses to hire more youths, and to train young people to make them more job-ready. Because, according to WPC and Shift, it’s the minimum wage that has made it so hard for them to get hired.

Nevermind the fact that Washington’s schools are literally criminally underfunded, which could contribute to a dearth of teens with necessary skills the join the workforce (according to the Mayor’s office, “nearly 70% of employers report graduates are deficient in critical thinking and problem solving skills essential to successful job performance”)—no, the reason teens and other young folks can’t get hired is because of a law that went into effect just about 400 days ago.

That makes perfect sense, assuming that the minimum wage increase was somehow impacting employment long before it actually became a law, let alone went into effect.

Washington state has had high numbers of teen unemployment for years; a 2011 report found that “Washington teens are only slightly better off than teens in Georgia when it comes to unemployment rates” (for reference, the 2011 minimum wage in both of those states was and $8.65 and $5.15, respectively, so it’s safe to assume that was not wage-based, either). A few years later, in 2014, Washington’s minimum wage had gone up, while its teen unemployment rate had gone down to about 25%.

Today—post minimum wage increase—it’s 13%, according to the city.

Part of the reason for the decrease? Youth employment initiatives like the Mayor’s, which have existed for years and are kind of a staple in city, county, state, and federal politics. Programs like Youth at Work and the (partially) privately-funded Summer Youth Employment Program have been actively trying to place kids in jobs because it’s good for the economy, not because the minimum wage has made them impossible to hire.

Murray’s youth employment initiative is likely not intended to cover up the blunder that is the minimum wage ordinance, but rather, to fulfill a promise he made in his State of the City address this year, wherein he addressed the racial achievement gap that has plagued Seattle since long before anyone uttered the words “$15.” From his speech (wherein he announced the doubling of the youth employment initiative among other investments in racial equity programs that have nothing to do with the minimum wage):

I believe that when our young black men are at their best, Seattle is at its best. My vision is that in 10 years, all of Seattle’s young people will have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits that come with a growing city and a growing economy.

Yes, that definitely sounds like an elaborate coverup of a failed policy and not, you know, a politician addressing a systemic issue that is failing thousands of King County residents.

Unless, of course, you believe that the minimum wage is so vastly powerful that it has managed to reach back through decades to change the course of history specifically to ensure that at this very moment, the Mayor is forced to (horror of horrors) take affirmative action to help vulnerable community members find jobs because some other community members are now pulling down what’s close to a wage they can live on. Yes, that explanation makes sense.

minimum wage facts

The minimum wage: It’s magical AF

Why Minimum Wage Opponents Are Dropping Big Money to Trick You

minimum wage facts

The deeply ironic act of spending money to avoid paying workers even a cent more is not new; conservative think tanks, lobbyists, and industry groups have been shelling out money in the form of campaign donations, legal services, and “educational” materials for ages. Just look at how far the airlines and Port of Seattle went just to avoid paying SeaTac airport workers $15 an hour. That couldn’t have been cheap. And we know from a ROC report that the National Restaurant Association had (as of 2014) spent close to $13M on political donations since 1989, largely to fight proposed labor laws like increased minimum wage and sick leave.

But they’re not just throwing money at guys in suits to argue that this country is becoming a nanny state, damnit! No, they are also spending decent dollars on campaigns to actively mislead you—with clever names that sound like they may be quite scholarly.

Like, you know, MinimumWage.com:

minimum wage facts

…Which is paid for by the very-rational-sounding Employment Policies Institute (EPI—not to be confused with the other EPI, who actually do good work), who are in fact a right-wing think tank whose major focus is ensuring the minimum wage stays as low as possible.

Another “winner”: MinimumWageFacts.com:

minimum wage facts

…Which is a product of the Freedom Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think tank which has fought the unions at every possible turn.

And to be honest, I have to recognize the hustle that these groups are demonstrating. It’s extremely clever to just snatch up a domain knowing full well that people will be Googling exactly that fact. Plus, buying domains is fun! I recently did it myself!

But truly, the idea of spending real American dollars for the express purpose of spreading misinformation (more on that later) about a policy that could legitimately help people is just upsetting. And lest you think it’s not that much cash, allow me to examine.

Even just buying a website with a domain as coveted as that—hello, minimum wage dot com? Who wouldn’t want that? — is expensive, and having it designed and built is even more costly. In fact, according to a website that literally just estimates the worth of a site, MinimumWage.com is like, pretty spendy:

minimum wage facts

Yowza! $2,160? Why, that’s 298 hours worked at the minimum wage! Or, it’s how much more a worker currently making $7.25 would have after seven weeks of work if they were making $15. But of course, that’s not how much EPI actually spent; according to a 2014 tax filing, they dropped $1.7M “to maintain EPIonline.org, minimumwage.com, and tippedwage.com” as well as to do other things, like buy advertisements.

minimum wage facts

 

That’s 234,483 hours worked at the minimum wage—or about the cost to employ more than 4,500 workers full-time for a  year—but who cares? That’s chump change to an organization (which is exempt from income tax!) whose gross receipts totaled over $3.6M.

And while all of that is a sincere bummer, and also really fishy—have you ever stopped to wonder why someone would spend more money than a minimum wage person will see in a lifetime to keep those same people from making an extra few dollars each year? Like maybe, I don’t know, racism, classism, misogyny, or greed?—the truly sad part is that they’re not even doing a good job of it. I mean, EPI has an infographic with little to no information on it and their blog posts on the subject routinely ignore very salient research from the University of Washington, UC Berkley, the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, and other valuable resources.

And the Freedom Foundation’s site is a true nightmare. The FAQ is literally dummy text:

minimum wage facts

…and their research page may as well be, as it’s more than half full of citations from the same researcher who—surprise! Works for EPI!

minimum wage facts

 

Now, I am sure opponents of the minimum wage will gleefully point to the fact that as we speak, I am getting paid real American dollars to write this blog post. And that SEIU and other labor and interest groups have also spent money to further the idea that it’s good for the economy when workers have more money. But if that is your counterpoint—that we, too, are making it rain to push our agenda—consider who that agenda helps. I have literally no financial stake in whether or not the minimum wage goes up or down. I’m doing this because I believe that people should be able to support themselves with full-time work, and that the economy is better off when people have more money in their pockets to spend on stuff in their community. Interestingly, there’s a large body of evidence from think tanks, universities—and the U. S. government—to back me on that.

So when someone tells you a scary story about how raising the minimum wage will cost you your job, ask yourself: What are they getting out of it?

 

 

Poll Confirms ‘Most Americans, Even Most Republicans, Are Okay with Raising the Minimum Wage’

minimum wage chamber of commerce

Despite being paid wages that are well below what’s required to even rent a place and being forced to go to work even when they’re very ill, workers are often not viewed as the most sympathetic group in conversations about labor issues like the minimum wage and paid sick leave. Instead, when discussing these policies, you can safely assume that at some point, someone will sympathetically bring up the plight of business owners.

Business owners—sorry, job creators—are persistently held up as the ultimate victims of changes to labor laws. They suffer from razor-thin margins, according to opponents, and they’ll surely be forced to shutter their stores for good if they’re required to pay their workers more. In just about every news story on the subject, you can expect to see at least one “local business owner” talking about what havoc it might create.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 3.01.36 PM

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t definitely some business owners who are concerned, and many more who may have to make slight adjustments. But, despite the outward appearance of a united front in opposition to raising wages and providing sick leave, it seems that many business owners actually are neutral or outwardly support these policies.

According to watchdog group the Center for Media and Democracy, a survey conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz has turned up widespread support of these matters among the very group of people that conservative lawmakers typically say they’re protecting when they pass laws like preemptions, which bar cities from opting to raise the wage within their limits.

The survey, which asked 1,000 business owners, found that just 8% of business owners actively oppose raising the minimum wage, and 9% oppose paid sick leave. Meanwhile, 30% “totally support” paid sick leave, while another 42% either “mostly” or “somewhat” support it.

David Merritt, the global director for LuntzGlobal, even admitted that the minimum wage is, in fact, pretty popular, noting in a webinar about the results that “it’s undeniable that they support the increase…And this is universal. If you’re fighting against a minimum wage increase, you’re fighting an uphill battle, because most Americans, even most Republicans, are okay with raising the minimum wage.”

minimum wage small business

These numbers confirm something that cities and states who have already raised their wages know from the anecdotes of business owners; more than a few CEOs have stepped forward to explain that the increase in disposable income among the lowest earners has bolstered their business. These numbers, though, are a little more concrete.

This puts the business community—and, specifically, chambers of commerce—in a bit of a pickle because, despite support from their community, they still seem to be rooted in the ideology that these kinds of policies are just objectively bad. That means they have to craft some clever messaging to ensure that the narrative of “business owners don’t like this” can remain intact.

“A winning argument is to put it up against other issues where it drops as a priority,” said Merritt in the webinar. “In isolation [the minimum wage] is definitely a winner.”

Even with this couching, though, it’s still popular policy; when a minimum wage increase was pitted directly against the earned income tax credit, a GOP favorite when talking about the minimum wage, “raising the wage won by a solid margin 54%-46%,” writes the Center.

That means that even the right’s favorite distraction from just paying people more—a tax credit that is narrow, small, and only benefits workers once a year—might not be working to sway people away from supporting wage increases. And honestly, it should surprise no one; California’s new minimum wage increase will give one in three workers in that state more money, right in their pocket. Additionally, in light of outrageous CEO pay and rising costs, it’s become apparent to most Americans that wages are simply too low.

Which forces the question: Who are minimum wage opponents really fighting on behalf of? At what point will GOP lawmakers and interest groups like the Chamber of Commerce actually start working for policies that represent the will of the people?

The voting body—on both sides of the aisle—supports improvements to our porous, patchy labor laws, which leave many Americans out in the cold. It’s time for the right to just concede defeat on that one and try to find some other way to keep the poor where they are.