Mr. Minimum Wage

Meet the controversial labor researchers providing intellectual firepower for minimum wage hike

Arin Dube /
• March 14, 2013 8:59 am


President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats are using disputed research from a pair of radical labor activists-turned-professors to justify a massive minimum wage hike that many economists say could increase unemployment.

"Raising the minimum wage will boost wages without jeopardizing jobs while improving turnover and productivity," touts a White House fact sheet on the proposed 24 percent increase, citing a 2010 study cowritten by University of Massachusetts-Amherst Professor Arin Dube.

Dube has been on a media blitz touting his research in recent weeks, appearing on MSNBC and numerous other media outlets, and is expected to defend his research in testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee on Thursday morning, according to sources close to the situation.

These media outlets and congressional allies have failed to highlight Dube and his coauthor’s history of radical activism, critics say.

Dube helped organize the Harvard Living Wage Campaign (HLWC) and participated in an illegal occupation of campus buildings to protest janitorial salaries with the powerful Service Employees International Union.

The HLWC website displays photos that appear to show Dube addressing rallies, screaming at police officers, and participating in the sit-in. The site also features a number of "Arin’s [leaflets]" advertising the rally with Soviet iconography.

Dube’s 2010 coauthor, Berkeley Prof. Michael Reich, also has a history of radical activism. He is a founding member of the Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE), "a continuing critique of the capitalist system and all forms of exploitation and oppression while helping to construct a progressive social policy and create socialist alternatives…often in cooperation with other organizations."

Those organizations have included numerous leftist groups as well as Occupy Wall Street.

Dube did not return Washington Free Beacon requests to discuss his research and artwork. Emails to Reich also went unreturned.

Dube’s scholarship and his past as a radical labor activist are coming under intense scrutiny among economists, the majority of whom accept that higher minimum wages lead to increased unemployment.

"He looks far more credible when he’s called an economist, but he’s a mouthpiece for leftwing extremism," said Michael Saltsman, research director at the Employment Policies Institute.

An analysis from University of California-Irvine economist David Neumark and board of governors of the Federal Reserve deputy director William Wascher found that the economists who inspired Obama "have thrown out so much useful and potentially valid identifying information that their estimates are uninformative or invalid."

"We continue to believe that the empirical evidence indicates that minimum wages pose a tradeoff of higher wages for some against job losses for others, and that policymakers need to bear this tradeoff in mind when making decisions about increasing the minimum wage," the study says.

Saltsman said Dube has been using his academic post to provide political cover to Democrats and labor activists that have long sought to increase the minimum wage on ideological grounds.

"Dube has been out there in an aggressive way saying that the majority of research doesn’t exist," Saltsman said. "Activists and ideologues have used these kinds of talking points for years. Now they have a Dube and a number of others who are willing to provide them research to back it up."

Berkeley Professor Sylvia Allegretto, who joined Dube in a separate 2011 study on the minimum wage and teenage unemployment, defended the new research, pointing to the localized controls that she says better reflects reality.

"A lot of the early studies in economics are completely irrelevant now thanks to computerization and advances in econometrics … when we looked at minimum wage hikes we saw a model we thought we could improve upon," she said. "We do empirical research that is produced in peer reviewed journals."

Allegretto said that academics should share their research with any audience.

"When I speak with policy people or activists, I speak the same way I’m speaking to you right now," she said. "There’s a barrage of think tanks on both sides popularizing research, which is a good thing. We need both sides out there with the best research discussing important issues."

Dube and his colleagues are expected to publish a rebuttal to critiques of their research within the next two months, according to Allegretto.