Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) — Economists and government officials endlessly speculate on the impact of raising the $7.25 federal minimum wage.
Most recently, a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour might cut employment by 500,000 workers. That is balanced by the projection that higher pay could also boost about 900,000 people out of poverty.
But some places in the U.S. already have real-life experience with raising their minimum wage.
Washington state, for example, has the nation’s highest rate, $9.32 an hour. Despite dire predictions that increases would cripple job growth and boost unemployment, this isn’t what happened.
At 6.6 percent, the unemployment rate in December was a click below the U.S. average, 6.7 percent, and the state’s job creation is sturdy, 16th in the nation, according to a report by Stateline, the news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
In Seattle, where metropolitan-area unemployment is 5.3 percent, that $9.32 sounds so yesterday. The mayor and city council are practically in a race to see who can move faster and with more gusto to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Safe bet: They will make a move by summer. Seattle could then surpass San Francisco, another city that fancies its role as a laboratory. The City by the Bay’s minimum wage is the highest (not counting airport workers), at $10.74 an hour, and officials are discussing a new rate of about $15.
While Seattle and San Francisco are unrepresentative of the nation, they have helped pressure their states to raise their minimum wages. Fifteen years ago, Washington voters approved an initiative giving the lowest-paid workers a raise almost every year, with increases now tied to inflation. Those increases produced the highest U.S. rate, although California could lap that in 2016 when it hits $10 an hour. Washington governor Jay Inslee and Democratic legislators have been pushing to raise the statewide amount to almost $11 or $12 an hour, but that now seems unlikely this year.
Critics of the voter-approved increase in Washington said it would harm the economy and cause businesses to flee to lower-wage states, such as neighboring Idaho, where the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. That didn’t happen, as the experience of Washington counties bordering Idaho show.
At the Olive Garden in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, the spaghetti and meatballs are about $1.70 cheaper than at the Olive Garden about a half-hour away in Spokane, Washington. That may be explained by Idaho’s lower minimum wage, taxes, land costs or something else. A restaurant spokeswoman would only cite vague costs of products and of doing business in various locations. Whatever it is hasn’t stopped Olive Garden from operating two restaurants in the Spokane area.
Bruce Beckett, government affairs director of the Washington Restaurant Association, said he wasn’t aware of any restaurants bailing out of Spokane for Idaho. He said he had heard anecdotes about local restaurateurs buying cheaper supplies in Idaho — fairly small potatoes.