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Thursday, May 15, 2014

$15 an Hour in the City: But What About Suburban Workers?

Posted by on Thu, May 15, 2014 at 1:10 PM

Alan Berube at the Brookings Institution explains that most of the low-wage jobs in King County aren't in Seattle, but out in the burbs:

While low-wage jobs are prevalent in Seattle, they’re even more prevalent in its nearby suburbs. Using data from the American Community Survey, my colleague Sid Kulkarni and I calculated that between 2009 and 2011, there were on average 149,000 jobs (full-time and part-time) in the city of Seattle that paid less than $15/hour. Over the same period, the remainder of King County had an average of 216,000 jobs that paid hourly wages below that threshold. These low-wage jobs represented 30 percent of all jobs in Seattle, and 34 percent of all jobs in the rest of King County. ...

To be sure, many people who live in the King County suburbs of Seattle will benefit from a $15/hour Seattle minimum wage, because they work in the city. According to a University of Washington study conducted for Mayor Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee, fully four in 10 people who earn less than $15/hour working in Seattle jobs—and who would thus presumably benefit from the minimum wage increase—live outside of the city. That’s particularly important in a region like Greater Seattle, where suburbs are home to most of the poor. At the same time, the UW study finds that nearly as many Seattle residents in sub-$15/hour jobs work outside the city limits.

Berube concludes that more big cities should consider coordinating wage hikes with the suburbs, because economies don't stop at a city's borders. Taking that point to its next logical level, he proposes we apply that same regional thinking to funding universal preschool and shoring up transit service. It's a familiar argument and it sounds neighborly. Even so, Berube acknowledges that "maybe" Seattle, with its souped up economic engine, should pioneer higher wages because it can demonstrate the changes won't cause severe economic disruption. I don't disagree with him.

But in reality, rational regional arguments don't really apply here. The problem is more political.

That is, it's not about Seattle proving that raising the wage makes sense to wary-but-eager suburban neighbors. I think many of our suburban neighbors have an unshakable, knee-jerk, ideologically opposition to this sort of thing. They don't want to pioneer universal preschool or augment bus funding because they're taxed enough already, goshdarnit! They don't want to pass paid sick-leave or raise the wage because that may hurt the holy job creators. It's like a microcosm of two-dimensional, red-and-blue Beltway politics.

Trying to persuade our neighbors to take the initial leap with us on $15 is a fool's errand. We can talk about regionalism with raising the minimum wage, adding Metro bus service, speeding up light-rail construction, paying for sick leave, etc. till we're blue in the face. They're just not gonna blaze that trail with liberal Seattle. (In the instance of Metro, this map shows the rest of the county won't pay up.)

The best thing Seattle can do is make the suburbs jealous. The suburbs aren't moved by evidence, they're moved by envy. If we want to see these same policy-backed investments in the suburbs, we have to approve them first in the city. They won't do it because it makes sense, because it's fair, because investing now to get returns in the future is a tried-and-true way to run a society. They'll do it because we have what they want: more money, better transportation, better preschool. So we have to take the leap, and if they never join the city, their loss. But the last thing we should do is dilly-dally while entertaining ourselves with a fantasy of regional cooperation that we're never gonna get.


Comments (13) RSS

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A very excellent point. Emergency medical workers (ya know, those people responsible for saving your life when shit hits the fan) outside of Seattle get paid the current minimum wage, $9-something an hour. Don't we owe them and countless other professions better?
Posted by Boggs on May 15, 2014 at 1:21 PM · Report this
Geocrackr 2
They won't do it because it makes sense, because it's fair, because investing now to get returns in the future is a tried-and-true way to run a society. They'll do it because we have what they want: more money, better transportation, better preschool.

It's actually more pernicious than that - recent history demonstrates over and over that they won't actually want what we have; what they want is to ruin/degrade/destroy what we have to keep us from having it. That's really the most damaging trait of modern Democrats: they refuse to recognize the pure destructive spite of modern "conservatives."
Posted by Geocrackr on May 15, 2014 at 1:37 PM · Report this
Dom - I think there will be an economic factor here that people aren't considering. The labor market doesn't stop at the city's border. Higher paying jobs in Seattle should draw the best workers from surrounding areas to Seattle to find better paying work. In turn, employers outside the city will have to raise wages to compete for quality workers. Let's hope we see this effect.
Posted by Meinert on May 15, 2014 at 1:47 PM · Report this
4 Comment Pulled (Threatening) Comment Policy
Dom makes the common mistake of lumping all the suburbs together, as if it's all one big Medina. How about working with the poorer cities on this? You may never win over Sammamish, but Tukwila and Seatac and Renton and Lynnwood have a lot of working poor, require a lot of social services and public transportation, have a lot of immigrant families, etc.
Posted by bigyaz on May 15, 2014 at 2:44 PM · Report this
Didn't the $15/hour actually start in the suburbs? Or is SeaTac not considered a true suburb?
Posted by FranFW on May 15, 2014 at 3:10 PM · Report this
@6- Careful, your post might get pulled for pointing out that this didn't all start with a certain councilperson (whose fan club keeps insisting she's solely responsible and everyone else's hard work didn't exist).
Posted by uh huh on May 15, 2014 at 3:19 PM · Report this
Meinert raises (ahem) an interesting that works well w/Dom's point about making the suburbs jealous. Or folks who work there anyway.

I'm thinking about a drug store (Walgreens? Bartell?) that sits on the north (Shoreline) side of 145th and Aurora. If folks on the south (Seattle) side of the street suddenly start making way more, that drug store is either going to have to raise its wages to compete or settle for employees that can't get jobs anywhere else.
Posted by gnossos on May 15, 2014 at 3:20 PM · Report this
Yep, it just means that Seattle will get the best workers, and the suburbs will have to pay up if they want to compete.
Posted by shotsix on May 15, 2014 at 3:37 PM · Report this
Dom is cute thinking he will be making people envious with owning a highly taxed $400,000 900 sq foot tear down or totally wanting to live with out cars. I would love to be that deluded.
Posted by Tim Keck and Dan Savage are the 1% on May 15, 2014 at 3:38 PM · Report this
There is a serious flaw to your reasoning here Dom.

Renton, Enumclaw, Woodinville, Edmonds, Maple Valley and the small cities outside of King county. These are your "suburbs" and that's are where all the poor people are now.

The poor people are the ones acting against their own interests. They're the ones voting down the transit and tax proposals.

Convince them.
Posted by tkc on May 15, 2014 at 4:21 PM · Report this
Cascadian 12
Poor people are not voting against their interests. They're more likely to vote for progressive economic policies than middle-income and rich people, when they bother to vote. But they don't bother to vote, because the process doesn't usually include their needs so change never seem to amount to anything.

The people who kill reform in the suburbs are the FYIGM crowd. Upper middle class. Detached home. Multiple cars. Never seen the inside of a bus. And no social conscience. To win you have to appeal to their jealousy. If the city gets better workers and less poverty, and the suburbs get poorer because of low pay, those people have two choices: most likely, a reverse white flight back into the cities OR raising suburban standards to match the city. Part of the solution really needs to be taxing the rich wherever they are, so they can't just run and hide from responsibility to their neighbors as is their way.
Posted by Cascadian on May 15, 2014 at 4:45 PM · Report this
@12 The last vote for the Metro plan utterly defies your thesis. The areas that voted it down were the lower income districts. As has nearly every election in the last twenty years. Seattle proper is now the wealthiest district in the state. It mostly votes progressive.

The same happens with state-wide progressive votes. The poorest counties - Eastern Wa counties - nearly always vote reactionary anti-progressive and conservative.
Posted by tkc on May 19, 2014 at 1:29 PM · Report this

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