It’s Ok, New York—Seattle’s Still Standing

Dear New York City,

I know that recently a certain Murdoch-owned newspaper may have tried to scare you about the potential minimum wage increase that Governor Andrew Cuomo is proposing. To make their point, this Paper Who Must Not Be Named pointed to Seattle, the land of ever-increasing rents and tall trees, as an example of a city that raised their wage and is now paying dearly with job losses that, to hear them tell it, make it sound like we’re living in a wasteland with a busted Space Needle and not a single barista in sight.

But I want to tell you, from here on the ground and with statistics and studies in hand: It’ll be ok.

seattle minimum wage job losses

When the Seattle City Council passed a $15 minimum wage 2014, they were fully aware that other cities and states would be looking to it as a model—would this grand experiment called Paying People Even A Fraction of What Their Time is Worth end poorly?

And of course, it depends on who you ask; those who are fundamentally opposed to minimum wage increases—like, for example, the American Enterprise Institute, who you may know as the sole citation of That One Newspaper’s op-ed—have found models that work for their narrative, while others, like a state economist, our own Office of Economic Development, and basically anyone else, have actually shown quite a bit of job growth.

It’s important to point out two things, though: First, that we’re not even a full year into this experiment yet. As I’ve written before, it’s just too soon to really see the impacts—positive or negative—of the new minimum wage because not even a complete 12 months has passed since workers saw a boost to their pay checks. And second, while the job losses or gains may all be hypothetical at this point, what is real is the higher earnings of thousands of workers in the city. Seattle’s job market may be cooling just like the rest of the country, or it may be booming thanks to tech jobs, or it may be a fiery hellscape of unemployed fast food workers (again! Too soon to tell!)—but what is 100% true is that workers in Seattle, this week, next week, and for the foreseeable future, are taking home more money, which they are in turn spending on things in their community. And that is truthfully—not theoretically—good for everyone.

AEI’s model doesn’t take that into account. Which you might not realize, since it was presented in the op-ed in Some Newspaper as the gospel truth.

Here on the ground in Seattle, though, I can confirm: It’s not that bad. Yes, it could potentially be slightly difficult in the short-term for farmers and non-profits (for what it’s worth, we heard the same concerns here and everyone’s still standing), but for those typically low-paid employees who have been scraping by on an unlivable wage, those raises will directly translate into more money into the economy, paying off bills and purchasing things they’ve been delaying buying.

raise the wage

And, though I’ve already presented much more evidence than that scary op-ed, I’m going to go ahead and throw in one more point of consideration: A study released just last week that concluded that Governor Cuomo’s minimum wage increase would actually boost jobs, not cost them. Not only that, but the increase in wages—which would improve the earnings of people working in a wide rage of industries, including health care workers, civil servants, individuals working in hospitality, retail, and service, and even teachers—would “include a ripple effect” that would lead to higher wages among those already earning more than $15.

All of which is to say, dearest New Yorkers, that actually, Seattle is doing fine. We’re opening new restaurants and employing lots of people and yes, struggling with our own economic issues (hello, affordable housing). But raising the wage—which, again, only just happened one! Year! Ago!—has not had the terrifying effect you may have heard.

seattle minimum wage jobs

You do you, New York, but don’t let anyone point to Seattle and say that we’re the example of what not to do on wages. Because I promise, we’re ok.

Love,

Seattle.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a reporter in Seattle. Her writing about the economy and politics has appeared in the Atlantic, the Nation, Salon, Fast Company, and elsewhere.