By David Flemming
On Sept. 6, David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning Washington-based think tank founded by a coalition of eight labor unions, testified before the Minimum Wage Committee. He said:
“We know the past minimum wage agreements have had no negative effect, or if there is a negative effect, it’s so small that it’s negligible. Now if you can raise the minimum wage at those past levels and have no negative consequences, you’re really not raising it high enough. You should be pushing; you should be trying larger increases. Because until it shows a substantial negative effect, you’re never going to know how high you can actually raise the minimum wage.”
Think about that for a moment. This guy is actually advocating for adopting a policy that will have “a substantial negative effect” on Vermont workers and their employers just to find out where that line of unendurable damage may be. In other words, let’s crank up the pain levels to see at what point the guinea pig passes out.
Back in 2015, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco published a study showing state minimum wage laws “directly reduced the number of jobs nationally by about 100,000 to 200,000” between 2007 and 2014. If 200,000 jobs is “negligible,” it’s scary to imagine what Cooper might consider “substantial.”
Cooper seems to view the Vermont economy as one giant machine, with Vermont legislators as the operators who should go full steam ahead into uncharted waters, because they can always let off on the throttle and undo legislation if need be. But Vermont workers are not cogs in a machine. If Vermonters lose their jobs as a result of minimum wage increases, it would take months for Vermont legislators to gather the data they need to recognize the problem and draft legislation to address the issue, and even longer for employers to hire back lost workers — assuming the employers are still in business and the workers haven’t moved to another state where it is legal to sell their work for what it is worth.
Minimum wage laws do not come equipped with an immediate feedback system that will switch off when the economy reaches some level of “critical unemployment.” Even if Vermont decides to reverse course after they pass minimum wage legislation, we will still have to deal with a unhealthy labor market for years to come. This is why it is so important that Vermonters say no to a $15 minimum wage while we have the chance.
David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.