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Minneapolis buys political cover to raise the minimum wage from the U of MN Humphrey School

It’s no secret the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs faculty tend to hold and promote liberal views.  That just goes with the territory in academia.  According to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, liberals outnumber conservatives by about 5 to 1 among college and university professors.

It’s one thing for a university’s faculty to tilt liberal.  It’s quite another for one of the country’s leading public research universities to be paid to produce advocacy materials for liberal causes.

Unfortunately, it recently became clear that the Humphrey School is now in the advocacy business.

As American Experiment’s Tom Steward reported last April, Minneapolis contracted with the Humphrey School to assess the economic impact of raising the minimum wage to $15 in Minneapolis.  Steward noted that a number of the principal investigators were union backed economists who publicly support raising the minimum wage, which raised concerns about the report’s objectivity.

Samuel Myers, the professor leading the study, insisted then that the report would hold up to scrutiny.

But, within just a day of the Minneapolis City Council officially receiving the study, the Humphrey School’s work received severe criticism on the Star Tribune’s opinion page by Michael Saltsman who is the research director at the Employment Policies Institute, an organization that receives support from businesses, foundations and individuals.

Saltsman first reprimands the report for being conducted by researchers with a colossal conflict of interest.  Many of the strongest supporters in the coalition to raise Minneapolis’ minimum wage are local unions.  These same unions also donate funds to support the Economic Policy Institute, an organization the Humphrey School hired as a subcontractor for the study.  One of the five lead researchers works directly for the Economic Policy Institute, another sits on their advisory board and still another is a former employee who also happens to be the chief economist of the AFL-CIO.  From the start, these conflicts foreclosed any possibility of objectivity, both real and perceived.

The report also has serious substantive problems, according to Saltsman.  The Minneapolis report claims “most models find no identifiable change in employment” due to raising the minimum wage.  In direct opposition to this claim, Saltsman cites a recent paper by University of California, Irvine professor David Neumark and published by the San Francisco Federal Reserve Board that concludes the academic research “points to negative impacts on employment following an increase.”  Saltsman then offers this critique:

There are outliers, of course — a group of researchers whose work has tended to find no employment effect. Predictably, it is the work of these researchers that the Minneapolis team emphasized in its report to the City Council.

No doubt minimum wage advocates will question the objectivity of Saltsman’s organization.  The Employment Policies Institute is a research organization that takes a strong position against raising the minimum wage based on their own scholarly studies and review of the literature.

While the research on raising the minimum wage might not be entirely clear, one thing is abundantly clear today: Minneapolis received a report written by one side of the debate.

The report and the summary of the report deliver all the key messages advocates need to support raising the minimum wage.  As already noted, the report finds raising the minimum wage will increase earnings with “no identifiable change in employment” under most models.  It also finds the impact of price increases on consumers will be “relatively small” because the cost of increasing the minimum wage “can be spread out over all consumers.”

Thus, no need to worry about restaurant workers losing their jobs or patrons paying substantially more for a burger.

Considering the economic literature on the minimum wage is not one-sided, the one-sidedness of these findings shows the Humphrey School delivered the pre-baked advocacy messaging tools Minneapolis paid for.

Thus, in terms of this report, the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs clearly abandoned their academic mission as a leading public research university and, instead, embraced an advocacy mission.

This represents a serious violation of the public trust in how taxpayer funds are used by both the city of Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota.  University officials should not be too surprised if they’re called to answer some uncomfortable questions on this topic at the Capitol next year as the Legislature sets a new budget.

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