It’s Been a Very Good Week for Seattle’s Minimum Wage

This is Invictus's chart of employment levels for Bellevue, Everett, Federal Way, Lynnwood, Redmond, and  Seattle. Does this look like Seattle's employment levels are cratering?

This is Invictus’s chart of employment levels for Bellevue, Everett, Federal Way, Lynnwood, Redmond, and Seattle. Does this look like Seattle’s employment levels are cratering?

Mark Perry, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, published a post on Seattle’s minimum wage earlier this month. As you’d expect from the conservative think tank’s most rabid attack dog, Perry claimed that since raising the minimum wage, Seattle was suffering poor employment numbers in relation to the rest of Washington. This is nothing new. Perry has published over two dozen anti-minimum wage posts in the last year, about half of which were centered directly on Seattle. But this latest post was different: Perry seemed more confident than in his dozen or so other hit pieces. Perry had previously based his numbers on regional data, which didn’t prove his point at all. But now he was claiming to highlight Seattle-specific numbers, which he said proved that Seattle employment has fallen by 11,000 jobs since last year’s unemployment hike.

Enter Michael Hiltzik at the L.A. Times, who published an excellent refutation of Perry’s latest claims, starting with this significant point:

Unfortunately, local economists say Perry is still using bad data. Although he attributes the city-only numbers to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they’re not reliable jobs numbers. Perry’s source is the Local Area Unemployment Statistics file, or LAUS, which is based on a small sampling. It’s aimed at counting the number of employed people living in the sample area (in this case, Seattle), not the number of jobs. The data are “prone to error,” University of Washington economist Jacob Vigdor told me by email, and “basically worthless for any serious analysis.”

Indeed, Vigdor — who is overseeing the university’s analysis of minimum-wage data — notes that the same statistics for Bellevue and Everett, Wash., showed exactly the same percentage decrease that Perry found in Seattle, even though they haven’t increased their minimum wage.

There’s much more, and you should read the whole thing. But this isn’t the end of the assault on Perry’s latest post. Our old friend Invictus built on Hiltzik’s reportage over at the Big Picture blog and found that Seattle’s employment and unemployment levels ran almost in “lock-step” with the cities of Bellevue, Everett, Federal Way, Lynnwood, and Redmond. The charts that Invictus made with the data certainly put the lie to Perry’s fear-mongering. And his conclusion is a knockout:

The fact of the matter – as I’ve said right from the start – is that it will take years to assess the impact of Seattle’s experiment, and a group has been assembled to focus on precisely that task. Notwithstanding that fact, haters gonna hate. Meanwhile, Seattle is still booming, the sky is still aloft, and there have been no discernible adverse effects as yet. That said, I fully expect Professor Perry to continue to seize any and every data point to claim otherwise. Because that’s how ideologues roll.

So we have a systematic dismantling of Perry’s post by two very smart people. That’s got to be a black eye for the AEI, which nevertheless seems committed to amplifying Perry’s faulty claims.

But in some ways, the best teardown of all this came earlier this week, when two separate Redditors posted pieces based on Perry’s work on the r/Seattle subreddit. In both cases, the Redditors began immediately ripping Perry’s claims to pieces. Here’s user tehstone

$15 minimum wage in full effect for 2 months and employment drops slightly-> time to declare failure.

30+ years of trickle down economics that only benefits a few folks -> keep on trying it, someday it will help the little guy!

…and a Redditor named flukz, who also calls Perry’s a “third rate blog post from a Koch-owned Libertarian freak-tank”:

This “analysis” also points to jobs flocking to the East side, which considering the minimum wage positions are all in the service industry, I’m sad every restaurant, chain, coffee shop, and retail store are all going to be ringing the city limits.

Shit post, springing from a shit proven wrong ideology, spouted mostly by white male college age software bros.

…and the delightfully named BroYourOwnWay gets the very succinct last word on this whole ordeal:

Correlation does not equal causation.

Make a note of it, Professor Perry.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.