The weekly City and State opens its feature on the minimum wage issue with a portrait of Michelle Dawkins, who rises at 2:30 a.m. to earn $7.25 an hour ferrying wheelchair-bound passengers among the terminals at JFK airport. Assuming she is able to work 40 hours a week without a sick day, Dawkins “will make $15,080 over the course of a year,” the article says.
The hard-working Bronx resident is quoted as saying “any bit, even if it’s a quarter more” will make a difference in her lifestyle.
But the story fails to note that, as a single mother, Dawkins also is eligible for an annual earned income tax credit (EITC) of at least $3,040 a year, equivalent to a 20 percent wage bump. If she has two children (she is quoted as referring to “kids,” but it’s not clear if there are more than the one named in the article), her EITC is $5,112. Since every little bit helps, surely this was worth noting in connection with the type of individual the tax credit is explicitly designed to help.
The EITC — which, in New York, is exceptionally generous — is only mentioned in passing in the lower half of the article, not with reference to Dawkins personally but as an item cited in differing arguments of the two quoted experts, Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute and James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute. Nicole notes that studies by economists Richard V. Burkhauser and Joseph Sabia have found that New York’s previous minimum wage hikes have reduced employment opportunities for young workers. In response, Parrott is quoted as debunking the Burkhauser and Sabia research in part on the grounds that they were sponsored by the Employment Policies Institute, which he says is funded by the restaurant industry.
Memo to City and State: if you you think funding sources influence research outcomes, it would be helpful to note that the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) isn’t just any old “liberal-leaning” think tank. It has close ties to major labor unions, whose leaders (including, most notably, Gerald McEntee of AFSCME) comprised five of the Institute’s nine outside board directors in 2010. These connections are no secret to other media organizations that haven’t hesitated to regularly describe FPI as “labor-backed.”
There’s certainly nothing wrong with having labor support; Parrott and other Institute staffers are respectable professionals whose work deserves to be considered and debated on its own merits, quite aside from any ideological motivation. But in fairness, if it was going to cite Parrott’s argument about the Employment Policies Institute, City and State should have mentioned FPI’s union connection. It then might also have noted that public and private unions have a vested interest in higher minimum wages, which reduce low-wage competition and raise the wage floor for union members. Likewise, higher minimum wages also reduce small business competition for the kind of big corporate retailers cited as supporters of the change — a motive also seemingly lost on reporters covering this issue.
(Full disclosure: here is the list of board members of the Manhattan Institute, of which Empire Center is a project.)