Failing to consider the economic case for a higher minimum wage. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
Failing to consider the economic case for a higher minimum wage. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

The Catch goes to Dean Baker at the (liberal) Center for Economic and Policy Research. He correctly points out a major problem with a Zachary Goldfarb Wonkblog article that strongly implies economists agree that increasing the minimum wage is a job-killer. As Baker notes:

Actually, proponents of raising the minimum wage also insist that they are on the right side of the economic evidence and they have the data to back up this claim, unlike the Republicans. (See my colleague John Schmitt's piece on topic as well as this letter signed by many of the country's top labor economists.) This Post piece is seriously misleading in implying that the argument opposing a higher minimum wage is more evidence-based than the argument favoring an increase.

I’m not an economist, so I’m not going to weigh in on which side is correct. The point is that there are two sides; Baker is certainly correct that mainstream researchers disagree about the effects of a wage increase on jobs. An appropriately wonky write-up would have included the Congressional Budget Office's estimate that a $10.10 minimum wage would cost jobs, but wouldn't have ignored arguments to the contrary.

Moreover, by ignoring the economic case for the minimum wage, Goldfarb winds up telling a story of the administration eventually choosing politics over economics, which isn't backed up by his evidence. It does appear from his reporting that concerns about jobs may have played a role in the original hesitance to go for a higher minimum-wage target. But he also reports two political reasons: the perceived need to be on good terms with business leaders during the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, and the hope that a smaller proposed increase could win bipartisan support. The eventual switch to $10.10 may have had a lot more to do with changing politics changing (as the futile hope of bipartisanship faded) than with abandoning good economics.

The problem is we can’t know, because the article is blind to economic arguments for going big on the minimum wage.

Nick Baumann is right: there’s nothing very wonky at all about this Wonkblog story. This is a lot closer to Bob Woodward-style behind-the-scenes reporting than what the old Wonkblog crew used to do.

And: Nice catch!

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