New York City’s Empty Storefronts And The $15 Minimum Wage
Author: Michael Satlsman
Publication Date: November 2017
Topics: Minimum Wage
“Why Is New York Full Of Empty Stores?”
That’s the question posed by the New York Times editorial board in today’s paper, as it worries about a “scourge of store closings that afflicts one section of the city after another, notably in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.”
The editorial offers few answers to its question and at least one bad solution in the form of a new “vacancy tax” for building owners with unoccupied storefronts. But perhaps the most notable omission from the Times’ editorial is the board’s own role in exacerbating the city’s troubles through its advocacy for a $15 minimum wage.
The concerns about retail employment aren’t anecdotal: According to Labor Department data, 2016 was the first year since 2009 where New York City’s retail trade experienced a decline in year-over-year employment growth. Current data suggest that the 2017 decline in retail employment will be even worse. The restaurant industry in the city has suffered a similar fate: In both the full-service and limited-service sectors, average employment growth is less than half its 2015 average.
What happened? For starters, the state of New York embarked on an unprecedented experiment in raising the minimum wage. At the start of 2016, the city’s tipped minimum wage increased by 50 percent, and the minimum wage for fast food workers jumped by nearly 17 percent to $10.50. At the start of 2017, the wage floor rose higher to $12 an hour, and the minimum wage for all businesses in the city rose by 22 percent to $11 an hour.
By the end of 2018, the minimum wage in New York City for anyone with 11 or more employees will be $15 an hour–a 67 percent increase over 2015.
The Times’ editorial board was a strong supporter of these increases–both the fast-food specific increase and the statewide increase. At the time, the editorial writers dismissed “stingy” critics of the policy who ignore “the economic arguments in favor of $15.” But the so-called “economic arguments” for $15 were always shaky, based on union talking points rather than rigorous empirical research. Not surprisingly, subsequent research from neutral third-parties has shown the folly of the Times’ advocacy for $15.
Rather than acknowledging the error of its ways, the editorial board bizarrely used these critical studies to justify its earlier policy positions. Meanwhile, the city’s retailers and restaurateurs suffer, as do its less-skilled and less-educated young jobseekers, who face an unemployment rate of 18.4 percent.
It’s said that the first step to recovery is realizing you have a problem. The New York Times has acknowledged that the city has a problem; the question is, will it now acknowledge a major cause of that problem?