The Minimum Wage Debate Gets Its Biggest Scandal In Years
Author: Michael Saltsman
Publication Date: June 2017
Topics: Minimum Wage
What did Seattle Mayor Ed Murray know, and when did he know it?
That’s the question that commentators of all political persuasions are asking, after Seattle Weekly confirmed a suspicion raised by this column: That the Mayor’s office deliberately sought to undermine a new University of Washington (UW) report on the city’s minimum wage experiment by seeking out a different report that was guaranteed to reach a positive conclusion.
Here’s the order of events, as established by Seattle Weekly:
To review, the timeline seems to have gone like this: The UW shares with City Hall an early draft of its study showing the minimum wage law is hurting the workers it was meant to help; the mayor’s office shares the study with researchers known to be sympathetic toward minimum wage laws, asking for feedback; those researchers release a report that’s high on Seattle’s minimum wage law just a week before the negative report comes out.
In a report that aired last night, Fox News added some additional detail to the debate.
According to emails obtained by Fox News, Reich was given a deadline by Murray. His work was to be completed just before the University of Washington team announced its results. Vigdor, the director of the study, shared with city council staffers the preliminary results of the research and provided a timeline for when it would be made public.
That last detail is important: Vigdor’s team has been working on its minimum wage inquiry since December 2014, with a timeline driven by its research process and data availability. It’s not a favorable contrast for the Berkeley team, whose timeline appears to be driven by a desired political outcome.
As we now know, the Mayor’s office released the Berkeley report one week before the UW report, and then released a media-embargoed critique of the UW report the morning it was unveiled. This poorly-conceived attempt to undermine the report has backfired: Instead of bolstering the Mayor’s desired conclusion about $15, it has instead highlighted the real consequences of the policy. It has also hurt the scholarly credibility of the Berkeley team, reinforcing the perception of a for-hire research unit that’s never met a wage increase it didn’t like.
This isn’t the first scandal in the minimum wage debate. For instance, a now-infamous minimum wage study released in 1994 that suggested the policy had increased employment was later debunked in the same academic journal that published it, when serious flaws were found in the data.
But this time, the scandal isn’t the data–it’s the attempt to cover it up.