By Kevin Connor
Raising the minimum wage will lead to job losses.
The corporate backers of public relations executive Rick Berman would like you to believe that claim. Berman runs a notorious network of nonprofit front groups that peddle industry spin on behalf of corporate giants. Berman’s groups are currently the target of an IRS complaint arguing that they illegally advance the private interests of their corporate clients in violation of tax laws.
One Berman front group, the Employment Policies Institute (EmPI), recently took to the pages of The Buffalo News to argue the second point, that raising the minimum wage in New York State will result in job losses. In a recent Another Voice, EmPI’s Michael Saltsman highlighted a study authored by two UC Irvine researchers that supposedly proved this point.
The column stressed the “scholarly” nature of the study and the authors’ academic affiliation, but failed to note that it was funded by EmPI itself. (Understandably, readers may have mistaken the single, booming voice of big business for an informed conversation among a diverse array of experts.)
The EmPI-backed researchers had to grasp at straws. A growing body of academic work suggests that increases in the minimum wage do not lead to job losses. The paper that the researchers attempt to undermine, published by economists at Berkeley and UMass, has been praised by leading labor economists at MIT and Harvard, as well as by the Economist. It uses a methodology of comparing conditions in neighboring counties and states that is widely considered an empirical advance in economics and frequently used in other studies. The EmPI researchers question this standard methodology, urging instead a cruder approach that yields unreliable results.
EmPI and Berman’s other front groups have come under fire for advancing misinformation on behalf of shadowy corporate backers. A recent IRS complaint filed by the Humane Society argues that the groups give cover to anonymously funded corporate campaigns for the private benefit of Berman and his clients.
It is not clear whether the IRS will take punitive action against Berman, but several authorities on tax-exempt entities recently told Bloomberg News that they think the case is a slam dunk. Francis Hill, a University of Miami professor, said that Berman’s empire “seems like an appalling abuse of tax- exempt status.”
Will the minimum wage increase go through in New York State? Now that opponents have been forced to scrape the very bottom of the barrel of so-called “experts” to help them make their case, its prospects are looking good.
Kevin Connor is the director of the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit watchdog group.
Rick Berman has not worked for Philip Morris for more than a decade. In an earlier version of this column that was not clear.