Seattle City Hall needs to back off partisan meddling in minimum-wage research.

Share story

JUST last week, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray celebrated a University of California-Berkeley study that found the city’s minimum-wage experiment had been good for restaurant workers: higher pay with no negative impact on jobs.

Don’t expect similar treatment for a different study, released Monday, from a research team at the University of Washington. It found disturbing effects from Seattle’s minimum-wage law beyond just the restaurant industry, which accounts for less than a third of all low-wage jobs in the city.

The UW researchers found a 9.4 percent drop in hours worked by low-wage workers both in and out of the restaurant industry — resulting in the equivalent of a whopping 6,317 full-time jobs eliminated. Even with a higher wage floor, the average low-wage worker’s monthly pay dropped by $124 — a 6.6 percent pay cut — because of lost hours.

The UW study is a seismic event in the hotly contested field of minimum wage research. It runs counter to previous studies, and the study uses an unusually large and deep data set to draw its conclusions. Researchers should have a field day debating its merits and implications.

But Murray’s office is pre-emptively meddling in that debate. Months ago, it asked the lead Berkeley researcher — the one Murray’s office just celebrated — to critique an early draft of the UW study.

Murray’s office said it had concerns about the “methodology” of the UW study. But the strategy is clear and galling: celebrate the research that fits your political agenda, and tear down the research that doesn’t.

Nevermind that the UW research team is the same one that City Hall hired to evaluate the Seattle minimum-wage experiment. The team is taking an impressively broad and deep approach — surveying and interviewing hundreds of employers and employees, and cross-referencing employment data with food stamp and Medicaid rolls.

But Councilmember Kshama Sawant impugned the reputation of the lead UW researcher, Jacob Vigdor, when a previous report found some trade-offs for the march to $15.

Now, Murray is apparently joining in the partisan cherry-picking of the research.

For what it’s worth, the UW study offers lots of caveats, including the fact that contract work wasn’t included in the analysis because of limits on the data. Vigdor — the one targeted by Sawant — does not conclude that Seattle should stop the minimum-wage law, which is currently at $13 an hour for big employers.

He also notes that the UW study mirrors the conclusion in the Berkeley study: restaurant jobs haven’t suffered in the march to $15. But the UW study, importantly, looked at the impacts on low-wage employment beyond the food-service industry.

The minimum-wage experiment sweeping the country needs good, thorough, independent research. Seattle led this movement, passing the highest local minimum wage in the country.

Does City Hall really want to know the consequences, or does it want to put blinders on and pat itself on the back?