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Pre-emptive Charges of Bias in a City-Financed Wage Study
New York Times
Patrick McGeehan

October 27, 2010
View the Original Article

Advocates for workers plan to charge on Wednesday that a New York City-financed study is likely to conclude falsely that more harm than good would come from mandating higher minimum wages for employees of companies that receive city subsidizes.

The study, financed by $1 million from the city’s Economic Development Corporation, is not scheduled to be completed until spring. But advocates for workers are criticizing it in advance because they fear it will be biased toward employers.

A bill pending in the City Council would extend New York’s so-called living wage of $10 an hour to employees of companies that receive all sorts of subsidies and tax breaks from the city. The issue became controversial last year when the Council rejected a plan to build a mall inside the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx. Opponents had demanded that the subsidized project pay more than the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. That defeat still rankles Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who opposes the living-wage bill introduced in May.

On Wednesday, two liberal research groups — the National Employment Law Project and the Fiscal Policy Institute — plan to release a critique of the study’s leaders and methods and to contend that the labor economists leading it are too “biased” to produce a credible analysis.

One of them, David Neumark, is “such a controversial figure” that his involvement is “surprising and troubling,” the critique says. It goes on to characterize Mr. Neumark, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, as a leading critic of policies intended to raise the wages of the lowest-paid workers.

From his West Coast office, Mr. Neumark sounded only mildly perturbed at the prospect of being publicly demonized by Council members and labor leaders 3,000 miles away, though he took umbrage at being called biased.

“I fail to see how someone can read all my research and say, ‘This guy is biased against living wages,’ ” he said. “My research on living wages, I think, reads as kind of wishy-washy, if anything.”

By that, he meant that his studies on living-wage policies in different parts of the country had generally concluded that while they did cost some workers their jobs, they also reduced poverty among others whose wages rose. Despite the increase in unemployment, he said putting a living wage into place “may be a relatively intelligent thing to do.”

That is quite different from what Mr. Neumark has concluded and repeatedly written about increases in minimum wages, a position that has made him a pariah among labor leaders and a hero to the restaurant industry and other employers of low-skilled workers. He has argued that raising the minimum wage tends to benefit teenagers who are not poor, often at the expense of adults who are.

Mr. Neumark said his critics should await the results of the study before trying to discredit it. “The city has certainly never said to me, ‘We want this answer,’ ” he said.

A spokesman for the Economic Development Corporation, David Lombino, said the agency had sought the opinions of union officials and real estate developers, and would solicit the concerns of others after the study is finished.