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The Latest Disputed Stat in the Minimum Wage Fight

Did San Diego waiters make on average only $1.08 an hour in tips last year? That’s in dispute, but it’s not the only shaky figure we’ve seen thrown around in the battle over raising minimum wage.

The minimum wage battle has reached a fever pitch around the city, prompting questionable behavior on the front lines – pencil stabbings? Hold it together, San Diego.

But the work behind closed doors has certainly had its own disputes. San Diego Magazine’s Troy Johnson has uncovered some shaky numbers in research cited frequently by supporters of the move to raise San Diego’s minimum wage to $11.50 an hour over the next three years. He calls the Employment Development Department’s report “a complete and utter sham.”

Johnson specifically takes issue with the conclusion that servers in San Diego collected on average about $9.08 an hour last year, including tips. The problem with that, he says, is that because minimum wage was $8 an hour at the time of the report, this would mean waiters were only taking in $1.08 an hour in tips. Johnson poked the Center on Policy Initiatives for the dubious numbers.

“I understand your skepticism,” said CPI research director Peter Brownell. “We hear these really big numbers about what waiters and waitresses make at some restaurants. But those are anecdotal stories. This [EDD report] is the best numbers out there for us to use.”

A report saying San Diego waiters and waitresses only average $1.08 an hour in tips—six times less than servers elsewhere in America—is the best numbers out there? We may need better numbers people.

The Center on Policy Initiatives has been “one of the stakeholders the Council President worked with to develop” the minimum wage hike ordinance, according to Council President Todd Gloria’s office. Gloria said the department’s report was just one of many materials they used while creating the ordinance. The center, department and Gloria’s office all stand by the research.

These aren’t the only numbers flying in this thread. Here are some of the other stats and assertions that have gone under the microscope as both sides try to leverage facts and figures to support their cause.

• Supporters keep citing this stat that under the new ordinance, 170,000 workers would get a raise. But you should know a few things about that figure: It’s just a guesstimate based on U.S. Census data, many of those workers already make more than minimum wage and tens of thousands of workers will get a raise even if the San Diego measure is thrown out.

• Nearly 66 percent of minimum wage workers get a raise after a year on the job. But only one legitimate study, from Texas A&M University researchers by way of the Employment Policies Institute, backs up that finding, and it leaves out important context. The researchers also found 16.6 percent of minimum-wage workers leave the workforce after a year, and an additional 5.9 percent become unemployed.

• The bulk of small businesses – 80 percent, according to Gloria – already pay employees better than the current minimum wage. That’s based on a national survey though, not local, and doesn’t reflect San Diego’s more narrow definition of small businesses.

• San Diego’s steep cost of living has come up pretty frequently as a reason to raise raise the wage. It is expensive to live in San Diego, but for the record, we’re definitely not the second most expensive city in the country.

• Meanwhile, David Garrick at the U-T did his own double fact check of just how much of a raise the hike represents. The opposition says the hike reflects a 44 percent increase. Ordinance supporters say it’s really only a 15 percent increase. The discrepancy comes down to timing, sort of: “Because the state minimum wage is scheduled to climb to $10 in January 2016, it’s correct that the city increase to $11.50 will be only a 15 percent hike at that time.”

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