Monday, February 3, 2014

Minimum Wage Increase Supporters Continue to Misrepresent University of Chicago Survey of Economists

It used to be that those who supported a minimum wage increase could expect to square off against a horde of economists who argued that raising the minimum wage would result in a loss of jobs and cause employers to cut back on employees' hours.  Now though minimum wage supporters claim to have economists on their side, some even saying that it would increase employment and boost the economy.  One of the major pieces of evidence offered for this claim is a 2013 survey of approximately 40 economic experts by the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business.

Here is how the result of that survey gets repeatedly described by supporters of a minimum wage increase:
"The opinion of the economics profession on the impact of the minimum wage has shifted significantly over the past fifteen years. Today, the most rigorous research shows little evidence of job reductions from a higher minimum wage. Indicative is a 2013 survey by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business in which leading economists agreed by a nearly 4 to 1 margin that the benefits of raising and indexing the minimum wage outweigh the costs...."
Those "costs" invariably refer to job losses.  Let's examine that poll question:
The distortionary costs of raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour and indexing it to inflation are sufficiently small compared with the benefits to low-skilled workers who can find employment that this would be a desirable policy.
 5% strongly agreed, 42% agreed, 38% disagreed, and

Setting aside that it is a horribly written, meandering sentence, the question specifically asks the economists to assume that they're supposed to compare the possible collective harm to the economy to the harm to individuals who still are able to get jobs despite the minimum wage increase. Thus, using it to say that the responses to the question means the economists, by a 4 to 1 margin, believe the benefits to the economy outweigh job losses to lower skilled workers or even a reduction in their hours is more than a little disingenuous. The survey did nothing of the sort.
Why would those drafting the question even include the critical phrase "who can find employment?"  Well, it's either very bad methodology or the drafters were intentionally using the phrase to get a particular result that they could use in support of a particular political agenda.  An examination of the first question, suggests the latter is the case.
Raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour would make it noticeably harder for low-skilled workers to find employment.
34% agreed, 32% disagreed, and 24% was uncertain.

The only reason to include the word "noticeably" is to try artificially reduce the amount of positive responses.  Without that word, the "agreed" number would have been much higher, perhaps as high as 75%.

Legitimate pollsters like Gallup, Rasmussen, etc. take great pains to draft their poll questions in such a way as to not include hot button words or phrases that provides an inaccurate picture of public opinion. Unfortunately others have no problem rigging a poll question to get a desired response and then using that response to advance their political cause.

Finally, it should be noted that several economists refused to answer one or both questions.  Undoubtedly they figured out that the survey wasn't actually intended to be an honest measurement of their opinion.


nwigazette said...

Great analysis Paul. Whether one is in favor of raising the minimum wage (as I tend to be), or against it, we should all be for accurate polling and reporting.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Exactly. I was surprised that one outfit that somewhat got into some of the methodology completely missed the critical part of the second question that asks that the person responding assume that the person is able to keep his or her job after the minimum wage is raised.