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Seattle’s New $15 Minimum Wage Puts A Target On My Back

OPINION: Students and recent grads will take the back of the employment line under a steep wage increase

One of my professor’s favorite pieces of advice in “Intro to Politics,” designed for freshmen political science majors and those looking for a quick social science credit, is ominously relevant: “If you’re about to graduate, you had better take that job offer at that GAP back home.”

While no fresh graduate wants to end up back at home working at the GAP in the strip mall near the local elementary school, that’s the trajectory that the current job market is headed.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and his city council are certainly not helping by unanimously – and unprecedentedly – voting to raise the minimum wage more than 60 percent over the statewide $9.32.

At $15 an hour, Seattle will have the nation’s highest minimum wage as it phases in over five to seven years.

By the time I receive my diploma in 2016, the city’s minimum wage will be anywhere from $10.50 to $13 an hour, depending on the size of the business. Big companies will pay the full $15 by the time the class of 2018 graduates.

Students and graduates who are looking to have a leg up on the competition, stave off moving back to mom and dad’s place and start chipping away at the mountain of student debt, will find it increasingly hard to compete for a job in Seattle.

This summer I landed a job at a Seattle restaurant for a little above minimum wage. Being completely new to restaurant work, there is absolutely no way I would have been able to get the same job if the minimum wage were $15.

Put yourself in the shoes of those evaluating the new arrivals to the job market. If I’m a manager at Starbucks and have 30 applicants, I would rather hire the one with extensive barista experience simply because they are most worth that steep $15 wage.

Local franchisees are counted as “big companies” under the law, and they will probably have the strongest incentive to avoid students and recent grads.

Ron Oh, a Holiday Inn Express franchise owner, captures this general resignation in a Seattle Times profile of a handful of businesses affected by the law.

“We’ll do our best to become more efficient,” Oh told the Times. “Rooms have to be cleaned faster, and if people underperform, instead of working with them more, we’re going to have to let them go.”

What about the neighboring city of SeaTac, home to the region’s main airport, which raised its minimum wage to $15 effective this year through a ballot initiative?

It hasn’t worked as beautifully as believers would have liked. Scrapping benefits like 401(k) plans and vacation time, and putting additional burdens on consumers such as higher parking costs, are ways that businesses in SeaTac have sought to save money.

burgermachine.momentummachines.websiteIf you work in Seattle, there’s a good chance your employer will have to take away benefits and employee lunches or raise costs in order to raise your wage. They might close or replace you altogether. Want to compete with a burger machine that can make 360 “gourmet” burgers in one hour?

Not only does a higher wage make job applications and interviews more competitive – it raises overall structural unemployment, which is affected by things like minimum wage, unemployment benefits and healthcare benefits.

At nearly $6 above current levels, the new minimum wage will radically affect structural unemployment. Unfortunately, that’s probably going to be students and recent graduates like you and me.

Students in Seattle are caught between looming higher entry wages and all the stress accompanying post-college decisionmaking – internships, graduate school, job searching – making the economic incentives harder and harder to read.

The Seattle City Council itself didn’t appear to understand those incentives.

This is how the political director for Socialist Council Member Kshama Sawant put it, according to the Times: “Support for $15 exists not because people have done the math and said, ‘Gee, this is what the minimum wage should be.’”

That’s it in a nutshell. The $15 figure was neither a well-informed nor mathematically precise choice.

It was a politically motivated number that looked good on a “bumper sticker,” as put by Peter Dreier, chairman of the urban and environmental policy department at Occidental College, in the Times.

Don’t the people of Seattle deserve more than that?

College Fix contributor TJ Jan is a student at Seattle Pacific University.

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IMAGES:  All-Nite-Flickr

About the Author
TJ Jan -- Seattle Pacific University.

Add to the Discussion

  • scarlet pimpernel

    Liberals think that Alice in Wonderland is an economic text book.
    They don’t care about the People; they only care about power; their power over the “serfs.”
    They would like you to end up in the gutter with a cardboard sign asking for work; then they can “save you” with welfare.

  • Little Lebowski Urban Achiever

    Excellent article. If your labor isn’t worth fifteen dollars an hour, you will not be hired. Period. This makes it nearly impossible for those without education or skills to break into the labor market. In other words, the minimum wage hurts young people and has serious long-term consequences for employment.

    • Joe Dokes

      Liberals would still count it as win/win. Fewer people able to find jobs at that rate = increased dependency on government, thereby increasing their voter base, AND they can even insist the real problem is that the min. wage hasn’t been increased enough yet. Wait and see…one of them will say it and their voters will believe them.

    • crankyoldman

      “If your labor isn’t worth fifteen dollars an hour, you will not be hired.” Using that logic the people of Seattle will be served by better restaurant, retail, and service workers than places with lower minimums. The good labor will migrate to Seattle and the less-qualified will move to low-wage places. The young or unqualified will have the opportunity to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is a long and proud American tradition, give it a shot maybe, before whining to the government to try to keep wages lower, so that you have a chance to get a job. Why don’t you step up your game, instead of trying to get qualified workers to move elsewhere?

      • kalani

        There are quite a few flaws in your assumptions and comments

        1) you assume displaced workers can still find jobs
        2) never has the American tradition involved the gov’t causing people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps
        3) why should he have to suffer because of the whims of others? If someone is happy they should be able to continue to be so. After all, we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You’re trying to ruin that.

  • NamelessConstitutionProponent

    Make everyone contractors. Pay a set fee for completing certain tasks. If they can do them quickly and well they will make more. If they do them poorly and slow they will make less. The minimum wage will not be involved as it is a fixed price for a delivery.

  • oracle2world

    So?

  • $15 per hour is chump change. Real compassion would be $200 per hour!

  • bob

    im now in the philippines and spoke to a young guy yesterday who works in a small store and they are fairly busy , he makes 100 pesos a day (12 hours on his feet) go google what the dollar/philippine peso exchange rate is

  • flyr

    Where possible move job overseas

    If that does not work move job to Texas

    Can’t move automate

    Can’t automate, close the doors or join the cash economy

    In their self proclaimed intellectual fairyland liberals have isolated em selves from four of the most rapidly growing trends in the US
    People are moving to a cash or barter economy.

    Our culture is changing based on the well founded perception that government
    exists to steal from the productive and responsible therefore stealing from
    the government is ok . The influx of immigrants , 90% illegal from Latin cultures
    where this is even worse affects the problem. The banksters have made e problem worse by making it easier to operate outside the taxed economy .

  • AnJo1

    To answer your question, TJ:

    No, the people of Seattle do NOT deserve better than that. They voted for the naive, economically ignorant and/or demagogic politicians who enacted this measure, and they therefore fully deserve what they will get: higher prices for consumers (especially low-income consumers), poorer job market for marginal workers (including you, other young people, and the less skilled as new or poorer entrants), lower tax revenues (they WILL notice that one), and resulting damage to the social fabric. Seattle isn’t Detroit yet by a long shot, but it’s steering in that direction and pushing the throttle as hard as it can.

    • zee788

      True, most of them are responsible for this. However, in a democracy, the innocent minority have to suffer as a result of the crimes of the majority. Maybe that’s who TJ was talking about.