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

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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.