WASHINGTON (AP) — A report by Congress' nonpartisan budget analysts seems to have thrown Democrats onto the defensive after it concluded that the party's drive to boost the federal minimum wage could cost a half-million jobs by 2016.
A Congressional Budget Office report released Tuesday concluded that a gradual increase to $10.10 hourly by that year — which is what President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are seeking — would increase pay for more than 16.5 million people, mostly those earning low wages. It also would lift 900,000 people over the federal poverty threshold, the study said.
Democrats hailed those findings. But in a congressional election year in which the slow-recovering economy remains a paramount issue, Democrats from the White House to Capitol Hill contested another of the report's conclusions: that the increase would reduce jobs in 2016 by roughly 500,000, or 0.3 percent.
That figure was the midpoint of a range of job losses the budget office estimated at somewhere from negligible to 1 million eliminated positions. And it was an unpleasant number for Democrats, who plan to make their long-shot effort to raise the minimum wage this campaign year a centerpiece of their focus on correcting income inequity between haves and have-nots.
Jason Furman, chairman of the White House's Council of Economic Advisers, and council member Betsey Stevenson referred in a blog post to a statement by more than 600 economists who cited recent academic findings that "increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market."
"There's some respectful disagreement on the emphasis and certainty around that magnitude of employment loss," Furman told reporters of the CBO estimates. He added, "Zero is a perfectly reasonable estimate of the impact of the minimum wage on employment" based on research by other economists.