On minimum wage, Seattle officials refuse to listen to info they don’t like

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” the saying goes. It’s never as simple as that, of course, especially in politics. But the sentiment is a good one – facts are supposed to inform public policy, not just opinions and ideology.

What we instead see too often is ideology driving the process of deciding which “facts” matter. Seattle’s $15 minimum wage push is a prime example. City elected officials have gone to ridiculous lengths to discredit a University of Washington study that reaches conclusions they don’t like.

The UW study was supposed to “transcend politics.” Seattle Weekly wrote of the city-funded effort, “The idea behind the study was this: With a policy as politically sensitive as the minimum wage, the Council should take into consideration data, and not politics, when analyzing whether it was working.”

Spoiler alert: That’s not what happened. When the UW researchers put out findings that made elected officials uneasy, they turned on the researchers. Analysis of the city’s second step on the wage progression, to $13, found that workers were actually taking home less pay. The Seattle Times summarizes:

“The team concluded that the second jump had a far greater impact, boosting pay in low-wage jobs by about 3 percent since 2014 but also resulting in a 9 percent reduction in hours worked in such jobs. That resulted in a 6 percent drop in what employers collectively pay — and what workers earn — for those low-wage jobs.”

That conclusion is absolutely unacceptable to Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who believes she actually is entitled to her own facts. Sawant is the face of the $15 minimum wage and an ideologue’s ideologue. She shows no doubt and brooks no ambiguity, so she has been working overtime to discredit the UW study.

Mayor doesn’t want facts either
She’s not the only one. In addition to some of Sawant’s city council colleagues, Mayor Ed Murray has also been working hard to trash the UW study and prop up a Cal-Berkeley study that emphasizes the upsides and plays down the disadvantages of $15 an hour.

A contributor to Forbes.com made a public records request to Murray’s office regarding the minimum wage and found close coordination between the mayor’s office, Berkeley researchers, and the Fight for $15 political group. Big kudos to Michael Saltsman, the requestor, who found:

  • The mayor’s office asked Berkeley’s researchers not to mention the UW study so as not to give it more attention. “Don’t want your positive news to serve as a teaser for the UW study,” a Murray staffer directed.
  • The same PR firm that works for Fight for $15 also handled the Berkeley team’s press efforts.
  • Berkeley researchers rushed their product out so Murray could tout it at a minimum wage event. Seattle Weekly writes, “In June, as the UW team prepared to release its most recent working paper—the one concluding workers were losing money due to the minimum-wage law—the mayor’s office rushed to highlight competing research from a team at Berkeley that came to more positive conclusions, essentially trying to undercut the findings of the city’s own five-year study.”

We have two competing studies here. One is an attempt to determine the facts, wherever they may lead. One is driven by – and tainted by – politics. It’s no wonder Sawant, Murray et al are trying so hard to dismiss the one they don’t control.

It’s disappointing all the same to see organized resistance by elected officials to an academic study. Ideally, public officials should be open to good data, and even to conclusions that aren’t what they would prefer. Seattle’s governing cabal isn’t.

The $15 minimum wage isn’t just one thing. It’s an economics experiment, it’s a social statement, and it’s a political organizing tool. The UW study focused on the economics experiment side of things and found mixed results. But Seattle’s elected officials see no mixed results – that doesn’t fit their narrative, so it must not be true.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.