Job, Wage Growth Surges in King County

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It’s true that Seattle’s minimum wage has not yet hit $15; the minimum right now ranges from $10.50 to $13 per hour, depending on employer size. The minimum-wage increase just started in January of 2015, so it’s too soon to conclusively prove that the minimum wage has been good or bad for Seattle. Two years is a blip of economic data. But we do have a conclusive answer to two very important questions: is Seattle a good place to work right now? Yes. Did raising the minimum wage immediately transform Seattle into an anti-business hellhole? No.

Jon Talton at the Seattle Times has published an excellent column explaining where we stand in a new Bureau of Labor Statistics report. King County demonstrated tremendous job and wage growth in the first quarter of 2016:

Weekly wages here increased by 5.1 percent to $1,456 through March compared with the first quarter of 2015. Nationally, wages fell 0.5 percent to $1,043… King County ranked 44th in job growth, up 3.6 percent year over year. Nationally the increase was 2 percent. Professional and business services saw the largest gain. King was also ninth among counties in total employment, with nearly 1.3 million employed.

Talton addresses minimum-wage advocates directly in the next passage: “I know what some of you are thinking, but this doesn’t really tell us anything about the long-term affects of Seattle’s $15 an hour minimum wage experiment,” he warns. But he continues: “the propaganda about massive job losses proved bogus — again.”

This is a very important point. Those business owners and conservative finger-waggers who warned that Seattle would almost immediately see a mass exodus of restaurants and industry if we raised the minimum wage have been caught in a lie. Workers in Seattle are seeing more jobs and higher wages. Now those same prophets of doom are moving the goalposts—claiming that they never warned that businesses would flee Seattle if the wage went up (they did) or arguing that job growth could be even greater right now if we hadn’t raised the wage (it’s not about just hitting the highest numbers on a scoreboard; it’s about optimizing outcomes broadly for as many people as possible). And those threats have been proven to be empty. When we raised the minimum wage, we did not immediately turn Seattle into a jobless, anti-business hellhole. In fact, our wage growth and job growth is outpacing the rest of the country by just about any metric.

When Seattle was tearing itself up over the $15 minimum wage, people were presented with two theories. Opponents warned that raising the wage would almost immediately destroy the city and make it inhospitable to business. Supporters promised that if restaurant workers made enough money to be able to eat in restaurants, we would all do better. Right now, one of those theories has been conclusively proven wrong. And it’s too soon to make any conclusive statements, but the theory that we all do better when we all do better is looking pretty solid.

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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.