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A new study, looking at Seattle, finds some downsides to raising the minimum wage

In this Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 file photo, protestors demonstrate outside a McDonald's restaurant in Oakland.
In this Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 file photo, protestors demonstrate outside a McDonald's restaurant in Oakland.
Ben Margot/AP

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Raising the minimum wage hurts workers. That's an argument that's come up again and again in many California cities that have acted to push up the lowest end of the pay scale. 

On July 1, here in Los Angeles, the minimum will rise to $12 an hour and will increase each year until it reaches $15 an hour in 2020.

Now, a new study looking at Seattle's $15 minimum wage indicates that a higher hourly wage doesn't lead to higher incomes.

Hilary Wething of the University of Washington was the principal data analyst for the study. She spoke with Take Two's A Martinez for more.

On the findings of the study

For low-wage workers, we find that on average their wages did increase by about 3 percent and we can think of that sort of in terms of $54 a month. But at the same time, for those same workers, we've seen that their hours have decreased by about 9 percent. What this means is that these workers have seen a net reduction in their earnings by about $125 a month. 

On what made this study different from others like it

That's a great question and this is actually what we view as our primary contribution to the minimum wage research. Previous studies have used proxies for low-wage labor markets. By that I mean they've looked at one particular group of workers such as restaurant workers or teenagers. And they've estimated the impact of the minimum wage on just that narrow sect of the work force. One of the opportunities that we had was use rich administrative data. That's allowed us to look at every single low-wage worker in Seattle of all industries regardless of age and experience. And estimate the entire aggregate effect of minimum wage on these low wage workers. 

On what's next for this research team

"We're not done studying the minimum wage. This is one paper that's going to come out, out of a slew of four or five at the fewest.

"There's also going to be papers that are going to be looking at just the worker trajectories over time. So what that means is if you are a worker and I've been employed in Seattle over the last several years, one thing that we as researchers want to know is how have you fared? That worker might have seen wage increases and very few hours reductions. They might actually be doing better off. We would want to know that type of answer."

Answers have been edited for clarity

To hear the full conversation, click the blue player above