UW study on Seattle’s $15 minimum wage: Part 5—Despite booming economy, Seattle workers are “lagging behind” other low-wage workers after $15 minimum wage law

Jul 27, 2016

While minimum wage supporters continue to declare Seattle’s $15 minimum wage a win-win success for workers and businesses, a report from University of Washington (UW) researchers paints a very different reality.  And it is Seattle’s low-wage workers who appear to be the losers.

The city-commissioned UW study reveals that while Seattle’s lowest-wage workers are earning slightly more than they were before the new wage law took effect, they have suffered reduced hours and lower rates of employment.  The researchers note these cutbacks have largely offset the slight wage gains of those workers. 

The disturbing result—despite the city’s booming economy and the higher wage, Seattle’s lowest wage workers are actually doing worse compared to low-wage workers in other parts of the state since the wage law took effect.  The study says Seattle’s low-wage workers are “lagging behind” their counterparts from other cities with less robust economies. 

In fact, many low-wage workers outside of the Seattle region (again, without the benefit of the Emerald City’s buzzing economy) enjoyed greater gains in their quarterly earnings than workers in Seattle.  One would expect Seattle’s strong economy to result in earnings for its workers that are at least equal, if not higher, than those in less robust regions of the state.  Accordingly, the study concludes the data “would suggest that the Seattle Minimum Wage Ordinance decreased quarterly earnings…” for that city’s workers.  

As the UW study notes:

“While 2015 was a good year for the group of Seattle workers we track, it was an even better year for the workers employed in [other regions of the state].”

Fewer hours, reduced employment rates and lower earnings for Seattle’s low-wage workers as compared to low-wage workers in other regions in the state.  Little surprise that the UW study also found low-wage individuals who were working in Seattle when the new wage law passed transitioned to jobs outside Seattle at an elevated rate compared to historical patterns. 

Despite a booming economy and higher wage, those workers seem to have decided they would be better off working in a different city.

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