SEATAC voters’ apparent acceptance of the $15 minimum wage has pumped up political excitement for a $15 wage in Seattle. So has the strong showing of Kshama Sawant, who made the $15 minimum a centerpiece in her campaign against Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin. But there is more to this than activist adrenaline.
Fifteen dollars is 61 percent higher than the 2014 minimum wage for Washington, $9.32, which itself is the highest minimum wage of any state. This page opposed the $15 wage because of the possible economic and social effects, particularly on new immigrants and first-time workers. The advocates pooh-poohed these fears and said the effects would be good.
Let’s find out. SeaTac has just volunteered to conduct an economic experiment on itself.
Keep in mind the bounds of the experiment. The SeaTac initiative doesn’t give a $15 wage to everybody. Many are inside the airport, which gives them captive customers. Other covered workers are in parking operations with 100-plus spaces or hotels with 100-plus rooms. What will these employers do? Will they pay and pass on the costs? Will they cut the number of rooms and employees? Will investors stop building hotels in SeaTac? Will airlines change operations to avoid higher labor costs here?
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The advocates say good things will happen. They added up all the raises they expect and they say this will be good for business.
Let’s find out. That means limiting the $15 minimum wage to SeaTac for the next year or two. Realize also that such an experiment at SeaTac will not settle everything because SeaTac’s economy is much different from Seattle’s, particularly in the way the airport provides a kind of shelter for workers inside it. Still, the results should say a lot.
Seattle Mayor-elect Ed Murray has said he could support a $15 minimum, but only after talking with all sides. He has suggested that any change would come over time and industry by industry, because industries are different. This is a smarter course than the I’ll-outbid-you populism of defeated Mayor Mike McGinn, who suggested going even higher.
Caution is warranted. It is easier to mess things up than to make them better.