Is there an exodus of low-wage workers from Seattle?

Sep 19, 2016, 11:16 AM | Updated: 11:33 am


The Seattle Times reports there are fewer households earning less than $40,000. But are those residents getting raises or just leaving the city? (AP)


A professor at the University of Washington is doubtful that Seattle’s increased minimum wage has had much to do with the city’s median income rising over the past year.

Robert Plotnick, a professor of Public Affairs at UW’s Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, told The Seattle Times that raising the minimum wage for small and large companies likely did not have much of an impact on the increased earnings being reported in the city.

The Times reports that in one year, households earning less than $35,000 decreased by at least 13 percent — that’s more than 10,000 households at the $35,000 mark. At the same time, households earning more than $150,000 increased by 13.2 percent, according to the Times.

Related: Seattle council’s vote on scheduling could ‘transform the lives’

Under the minimum wage law, employers with 501 or more employees must now pay $13 an hour, or $12.50 an hour if medical benefits are provided. Small employers, which have 500 or fewer employees, have to pay $12 an hour, or $10.50 if medical benefits are provided. Those wages increased at the start of 2016.

Those wages, according to Plotnick, aren’t likely to make a big dent in the statistics. That is because while weekly earning went up by “five or ten bucks,” hours decreased. Instead, it’s more likely that people are getting raises and finding themselves no longer at the low end of incomes, he told the Times.

Though Plotnick believes that people are seeing increased wages, it’s possible that others are being pushed out of the city.

In June of 2015, the Times reported that the top 5 percent of households were seeing their incomes recovering faster from the recession. Those making less than $32,500, however, saw incomes decline.

KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz said nobody should be shocked by the trend when it was reported. He predicted it would continue because the labor market is changing.

“You have low-skilled jobs being automated, which will obviously have human beings as the losers in this fight,” he said. “If you have low skills, you are becoming less and less important to a lot of businesses.

“And now that you’ve put individual cities (rather than the whole state) on the path to $15 an hour, you’re making it even harder on people who have low skills to find work because you’re asking to be paid more than you’re worth to a company. So now, the employer will look for someone overqualified for the low-end job so they can do more than just the basics.”

The report from the Times comes just as the Seattle City Council prepares to vote on regulating how workers are scheduled. If a proposal passes Monday afternoon, Seattle would have the strongest secure scheduling law in the country.

The new law would mean that workers would get two weeks of advance notice on work schedules. Additionally, any changes by an employer would result in the worker getting extra pay. There would also have to be a minimum of 10 hours between shifts. And employers would have to offer any available hours to existing employees before hiring more people.

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Is there an exodus of low-wage workers from Seattle?