Growing up in Seattle, I was never sure how to interact with homeless people. I’ve always wanted to help them, but never been confident how to. “Do I give them money? Or food? Do I just smile and try to have a normal, human conversation with them?” I asked these questions every time I walked the streets, because inevitably, I’d come across them—Seattle/King County has the 4th largest homeless population of all counties in the country. Eventually I decided the best course of action might be legislative rather than face-to-face: to increase affordable housing, to increase accessible jobs, to increase the minimum wage, and similar things. So in 2014 when Seattle finally did decide to increase its minimum wage to $15/hour, I was thrilled.
But now I’m worried.
I’m not an economist. I struggle to understand articles about economic changes—even the ones I’ve linked to in this article. But even I can see that many of the articles written about Seattle’s minimum wage are negative. From Forbes to Fortune, people are saying the hike is a bad idea—that it is already increasing unemployment, or that it will increase it, or at the very least, that there will be fewer jobs around at $15/hour than there would be at $10/hour.
But there are some positive dissenting voices. Writers from the LA Times and Seattle Times are saying the naysayers have all used “garbage data” because there isn’t any reliable data yet—it’s far too early, they say, to conclude anything definitely.
I won’t try to make some technical argument to advance my own position. I don’t know enough to even have my own position. But I will say that I’m worried. I’m worried that by the time we do have reliable data, the many negative predictions will have been confirmed, and the people we’re trying to help will only be worse off. I’m worried about the people in California, now that they’re implementing a $15 minimum wage across their entire state. And I’m very worried about Bernie Sanders’ push to make that the national minimum wage. Shouldn’t we at least wait for some better data on Seattle before we change the whole country?
I want to help people. But this rush to get a $15 minimum wage is hasty, and it might very well be dangerous.