Issues

Study: Seattle Minimum Wage Increase Led to More Restaurant Hygiene Violations

Then-Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signs a bill that raises the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour on June 3, 2014 / Getty Images

The decision to increase the minimum wage in Seattle may be leading to less hygienic restaurants in the city, according to a working paper from a group of economists.

A trio of professors at Ball State, Villanova, and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) tracked the change in health code violations reported in Washington state's King County, where Seattle is located, since the city raised the minimum wage.

The researchers told NPR on Wednesday that because different parts of King County raised the minimum wage at different times, they were able to track the violations in Seattle as the minimum wage changed in each area. Seattle's minimum went from about $8 an hour in 2010 to about $13-$15 an hour this year.

"We find an increase in real minimum wage by $0.10 increased total hygiene violation scores by 11.45 percent," the professors wrote.

They also found that in Bellevue city, a control group in the study, a $1 increase in minimum wage increases overall violations by 6.4 percent.

The professors theorized that when the minimum wage is increased, restaurant owners are forced to find ways to cut costs. That leads owners to reduce the hours and increase the responsibilities of their employees, leading them to cut corners.

The largest increase was a 15.3 percent jump in less severe "blue" violations, which will not get a restaurant shut down but do pose a threat. Those violations include improper protection from contamination from rodents and insects, employee cleanliness, toilet cleanliness, and garbage disposal.

"While economic and income distribution benefits are widely discussed, this study shows its potential adverse impact on public health," the authors concluded.