Why raising the minimum wage in Seattle did little to help workers, according to a new study

This is an interesting article on the effect of raising the minimum wage. What’s interesting about it is that it raises a lot of issues that speak to the challenge of proving things in the human sciences, particularly in Economics. Because we can’t create two perfectly identical situations in real life with which to test out variables, we are left with having to determine the effects of variables like changing the minimum wage in imperfect, real life, experiments. If you pay close attention to the language, the writer communicates the experimental conclusions which often times sounds equivocal, weakly worded, or uncertain and that is because those people who conduct the experiments or undertake the research understand that it is very difficult to come up with solid, definitive conclusions like you can in the natural sciences. For example, you can say definitively in the natural sciences that if you heat up a gas and keep volume constant, that you will increase pressure. This is a consistent finding, backed up by experiments. Can you come to the same type up of definitive conclusion in the human sciences? Can you definitively answer the question, “what is the effect of raising the minimum wage?” The answer to that question is probably no. You will get answers that have a lot of qualifiers and adjectives like “probably” and “sometimes” and “maybe.”

“Overall, there was almost no effect on workers’ average total earnings, but Vigdor pointed out that the average could be misleading. The consequences for many individual workers — both positive and negative — could have been more significant.”


Finally, an Answer to the Minimum Wage Question

How can we prove anything in the human sciences when it is virtually impossible to run reproduceable experiments the way you can in the natural sciences? Every so often a “natural experiment” presents itself and we can come to conclusions about truths in fields such as economics. The problems of economics are present in fields throughout the human sciences for the same reasons. Below is an article that discusses the issue the effects of raising the minimum wage.

“In statistics, ‘identification’ just means separating two groups in order to tell if a treatment works. You give Group A the pill and you give Group B a placebo, and you see if Group A does better than Group B. In laboratory experiments this is usually possible to do. In the real world, it’s a lot harder — you have to wait for a policy to bring about a difference between two areas that are roughly comparable.”