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Seattle Increase in Minimum Wage Results in Fewer Hours Worked, and Lower Incomes



(p. A13) By now you have read 15 articles on the Seattle minimum-wage fiasco. Since the city boosted its local minimum from $9.47 in 2014 to $13 last year (on its way to $15), a detailed investigation by University of Washington economists finds that beneficiaries actually saw their incomes fall by a net $125 a month because employers cut their hours.


. . .


The impetus came from people who don't actually earn the minimum wage--labor-union leaders and think-tankers and activist organizations.


. . .


Organizers look fondly to Denmark, where a McDonald's line worker receives $41,000 a year and five weeks of paid vacation. As the Atlantic put it two years ago, "Unionizing workers at McDonald's and other fast-food chains might be a long shot, but if it succeeds, it might help lift a million or more workers into the middle class (or at least into the lower middle class) and create a model for low-wage workers in other industries."

This sounds pretty but is misleading in a fundamental way. The workers a McDonald's franchise would hire at $15 an hour are different from those it would hire at $8.29, the average earned by a fast-food worker today.

Costs would go up. The industry would likely shrink, it would likely replace workers with automation, but it would still create jobs at $15 an hour for people whose productivity can justify $15 an hour. The people who work at McDonald's today, typically, would already be earning $15 an hour somewhere else if their productivity could justify $15 an hour.

Everybody needs to start somewhere, including the unskilled and those who lack a work history. Some need a job that doesn't demand much of them. They have other obligations. They accept less pay to maximize flexibility and freedom from responsibility. They don't plan to make a career of it. The fast-food industry in America is built on such people.



For the full commentary, see:

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. "Seattle Aims at McDonald's, Hits Workers." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 1, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 30, 2017.)


The Seattle minimum wage paper, mentioned above, is:

Jardim, Ekaterina, Mark C. Long, Robert Plotnick, Emma van Inwegen, Jacob Vigdor, and Hilary Wething. "Minimum Wage Increases, Wages, and Low-Wage Employment: Evidence from Seattle." National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper Series, # 23532, June 2017.






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