WASHINGTON — Minimum wage proponents get no points for originality.
This fall, they’re dusting off their failed 2014 strategy which claims that U.S. Senate candidates should support a starter wage increase because it could make the difference in battleground states such as Wisconsin.
“[U.S. senators] locked in close races could lose critical support — and even their seats — over opposition to raising [the minimum wage] ...,” wrote Paul Sonn of the labor union-funded National Employment Law Project Action Fund recently.
The empty threat failed in 2014, and there’s good reason to believe it will fail in November.
Some history: The 2014 elections featured several close Senate races, as well as some close gubernatorial contests. In the weeks leading up to the election, the left-of-center Public Policy Polling (PPP) firm came out with a survey claiming support for the minimum wage could be a “decisive issue” that could cost candidates as much as 30 points.
Those predictions turned out to be bogus. Of the six close 2014 election races looked at by PPP — in Illinois, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Iowa, Kentucky, and Louisiana — the candidate who was opposed to or skeptical of minimum wage increases won in every instance. Even beyond this group of six – from Colorado to West Virginia to Florida – opposition to the minimum wage wasn’t a barrier to victory. It was the wedge issue that wasn’t.
Now, it’s like déjà vu all over again with starter wage proponents using a similar PPP poll to shop the same story. But digging into the poll a little deeper shows that candidates shouldn’t worry about being on the right side of sound economics when opposing the minimum wage.
The PPP survey didn’t measure the relative importance of a candidate’s position on the minimum wage to how a respondent would vote.
My organization used Google’s consumer survey tool to poll 500 people who plan to vote in each of the seven battlegrounds states targeted by PPP and the union-funded NELP Action Fund. Across all seven battleground states, seven in 10 indicated that a candidate’s minimum wage opposition would have no impact on their vote, or increase their likelihood to vote for a candidate.
The PPP poll is further flawed because it only highlights the positive aspects of a minimum wage increase without mentioning their consequences, such as lost jobs. It’s an unacceptable oversight: Economists at Trinity and Miami Universities used Congressional Budget Office methodology to conclude that over 24,000 jobs would be lost in Wisconsin at a $12 minimum wage.
In cities and states that have already pursued dramatic minimum wage increases, these consequences are being felt. After a dramatic wage hike in New York earlier this year, Betty’s Diner in Buffalo, Longway’s Diner in Watertown, and Peppermill Restaurant in Rochester all reduced their hours of operation to cut down on unsustainable labor costs associated with the new wage requirement. McGirk’s Irish Pub in Binghamton, P.J. Clarke’s in New York City, and Piggy Pat’s BBQ in New Hartford eliminated staff positions entirely to try to compensate for these costs.
And most recently, the Del Rio Diner in Brooklyn closed after 40 years in business because its blue collar customers couldn’t afford the higher prices necessary to offset the cost of $15. These and other stories can be found on Facesof15.com.
In our poll, we asked respondents whether they’d support a $12 starter wage knowing about these side-effects. Among Wisconsin respondents, just 28 percent said they’d still support the increase.
While starter-wage proponents will continue to try to scare candidates into dropping principled opposition to these wage increases, what’s really scary is the impact their policies would have on Wisconsin’s entry-level labor market.