My Turn: Minimum wage’s minimum impact on 2016 politics
Author: Michael Saltsman
Publication Date: October 2016
Newspaper: The Arizona Republic
Researcher: Don’t buy polls that suggest strong support for higher minimum wages.
Minimum-wage proponents get no points for originality.
This fall, they’re dusting off their failed 2014 strategy which claims that U.S. Senate candidates should support a starter-wage increase because it could make the difference in battleground states like Arizona.
“(U.S. senators) locked in close races could lose critical support — and even their seats — over opposition to raising (the minimum wage) …” wrote Paul Sonn of the labor union-funded National Employment Law Project Action Fund this month.
The empty threat failed in 2014 and there’s good reason to believe it will fail in November.
Some history: The 2014 elections featured several close Senate races, as well as some close gubernatorial contests. In the weeks leading up to the election, the left-of-center Public Policy Polling firm came out with a survey claiming support for the minimum wage could be a “decisive issue” that could cost candidates as much as 30 points.
Those predictions turned out to be bogus. Of the six close 2014 election races looked at by PPP — in Illinois, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Iowa, Kentucky, and Louisiana — the candidate who was opposed to or skeptical of minimum-wage increases won in every instance.
Even beyond this group of six — from Colorado to West Virginia to Florida — opposition to the minimum wage wasn’t a barrier to victory. It was the wedge issue that wasn’t.
Two years later, still a wedge issue that isn’t
Now, it’s like déjà vu all over again with starter-wage proponents using a similar PPP poll to shop the same story. But digging into the poll a little deeper shows that candidates shouldn’t worry about being on the right side of sound economics when opposing the minimum wage.
The PPP survey didn’t measure the relative importance of a candidate’s position on the minimum wage to how a respondent would vote. My organization used Google’s consumer survey tool to poll 500 people who plan to vote in each of the seven battlegrounds states targeted by PPP and the union-funded NELP Action Fund.
Across all seven battleground states, 7 in 10 indicated that a candidate’s minimum-wage opposition would have no impact on their vote, or increase their likelihood to vote for a candidate.
The PPP poll is further flawed because it highlights the positive aspects of a minimum-wage increase without mentioning the consequences, such as lost jobs. It’s an unacceptable oversight: Economists at Trinity and Miami universities used Congressional Budget Office methodology to conclude that 15,000 jobs would be lost in Arizona at a $12 minimum wage.
In cities and states that have already pursued dramatic minimum-wage increases, these consequences are being felt.
Support drops once voters know side effects
After a dramatic wage hike in New York earlier this year, Betty’s Diner in Buffalo, Longway’s Diner in Watertown, and Peppermill Restaurant in Rochester all reduced their hours of operation to cut down on unsustainable labor costs associated with the new wage requirement. McGirk’s Irish Pub in Binghamton, P.J. Clarke’s in New York City, and Piggy Pat’s BBQ in New Hartford eliminated staff positions entirely to try to compensate for these costs.
And most recently, the Del Rio Diner in Brooklyn closed after 40 years in business because its blue-collar customers couldn’t afford the higher prices necessary to offset the cost of $15.
Bob Sommer, the co-owner of Changing Hands bookstore, recently wrote in support of Arizona’s minimum-wage proposal. He appears to be the exception rather than the rule.
Bookstores, which face a limited ability to raise prices, have been especially vulnerable to wage hikes elsewhere. For example, The Almost Perfect Bookstore in Roseville, Calif., and Black Oak Books in Berkeley, Calif., both cited minimum-wage hikes as the major factor in their recent closures.
These and other stories can be found on Facesof15.com.
In our poll, we asked respondents whether they’d support a $12 starter wage knowing about these side effects. Among Arizona respondents, just 28 percent said they’d still support the increase.
While starter-wage proponents will continue to try to scare candidates into dropping their principled opposition to these wage increases, what’s really scary is the impact their policies would have on Arizona’s entry-level labor market.