UW study actually says $15 is too high a wage
Much has been made about the self-sufficiency test promoted by the University of Washington’s Diana Pearce and how it portends a tough economic future.
The reports are misleading because, I’d argue, the “economic justice” project she represents want it that way.
Take a quick look at how the self-sufficiency data is being presented. On Seattle’s Morning News, Dr. Pearce warned that we’re heading toward harsh economic times and that profits are going to the top 1 percent of wage earners instead of the workers. In The Seattle Times, the data was presented as a family of four needing $76,000 just to “scrape by” in the Seattle area. This is all technically true if you choose to ignore incredibly important context.
The self-sufficiency data actually suggests the $15 minimum wage in the Seattle area is more than enough to get by. Indeed, according to their own data sets, a single adult needs $13.69 in King County to get by; not $15. In Pierce County? Just $11.91.
So why the focus on the data as it relates to a family of two adults with one pre-schooler and one school-age child? Because that data demands higher wages and the ideological goal is to get a higher minimum wage.
The majority of people earning a minimum wage are under 25. The largest demographic of Seattle incumbent workers making less than $15 before the hike were 16 to 24 years old. This tracks with national data. According to the Bureau of Labor:
Although workers under age 25 represented only about one-fifth of hourly paid workers, they made up about half of those paid the federal minimum wage or less. Among employed teenagers (ages 16 to 19) paid by the hour, about 10 percent earned the minimum wage or less, compared with about 2 percent of workers age 25 and older.
So they’re overwhelmingly young and almost certainly not a family of four with a pre-schooler and a school-aged child struggling to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Seattle. This is the demographic of workers getting their first or second job, living alone, with no need for a two-bedroom apartment. They’re not spending money sending their kids to school. It’s why they can get by with $13.69.
It’s no shock that a minimum wage job isn’t going to sustain a family of four. This isn’t news. But the data is purposefully presented in a way that makes the argument for a higher minimum. The argument only works if activists purposefully distort the actual face of the minimum wage.
In other words, they’re pretending people who are less likely to have minimum wage jobs are struggling to get by on minimum wage.