University wage study researchers address bias accusations

A study looking at the effects of a $15 Minneapolis minimum wage has drawn criticism and accusations of bias.

Ryan Faircloth

University researchers have defended a minimum wage study done for the city of Minneapolis earlier this month amid accusations of bias from business reps and city officials.

Critics say the study was partial toward the implementation of a minimum wage raise.

Initial concerns over research bias were raised at the Oct. 5 Committee of the Whole meeting, when Ward 7 City Council Member Lisa Goodman stated that two researchers from the study had previously written that they were in favor of a higher minimum wage.

“When I see a report that basically says ‘there’s no negative to businesses at all,’ it’s hard for me to consider the report completely unbiased,” she said at the meeting.

Jonathan Weinhagen, president of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he was skeptical when he saw the results as well.

He said there was a conflict of interest because William Spriggs, chief economist of the union lobby group AFL-CIO, was a consultant for the study.

“That’s something that causes us to take pause, and kind of look at … is there some bias in the research, and/or the study in general,” he said.

Ward 3 City Council Member Jacob Frey disagreed and said any minimum wage expert who’s conducted substantial research would form opinions on the topic.

“If they have no opinion whatsoever, then chances are they aren’t an expert,” he said.

And Samuel Myers, Jr., principle investigator of the study and director of the Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice, said he chose experts who were well-qualified to work on the study, and said it is important to note the difference between being an author and a sub-consultant.

The team tried to stay away from bias in its methods, which used census and Metropolitan Council data to help simulate the effect of a Minneapolis wage increase, said Thomas Durfee, an applied economics PhD student and editor of the study.

“Using peer-reviewed papers as the foundation for our analysis is one way that we sought to head off the claim that there was some kind of bias one way or the other,” he said.

By simulating the findings of three different studies, Durfee said they were able to generate a range of economic outcomes resulting from an increased wage.

The study found that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would aid about 71,000 low-wage workers in the city, with negligible adverse effects on employment. Durfee said they also found minimal changes in employment for the industries most affected by the increase.

But one University economics professor, Thomas Holmes, disagreed and said employment in the restaurant industry would likely drop 3 percent, reflecting the lower end of the study’s estimation. Low-wage workers will suffer the most due to reductions in job opportunities, he said.

Still, Myers said it is important to remember that the minimum wage decreases in value over time as prices rise.

Durfee said the study found the 1969 federal minimum wage to be akin to a $12 state minimum wage in 2021 — when calculating for inflation.

While the study indicates there are positives and negatives to a $15 minimum wage, the positives are shown to be “relatively modest,” he said.

“Nobody from my team is making the case that poverty in Minneapolis will be eradicated,” Myers said.