A preliminary look into employment data by Forbes Contributor Stephen Bronars points to slower employment growth since the minimum wage increases in San Francisco and Seattle.
In the article Higher Minimum Wages in San Francisco and Seattle Mean Fewer Restaurant Jobs takes a look at year over year quarterly changes in employment averages. Here are some of the points he makes regarding his choice of data to use:
- The minimum wage laws apply to cities but Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment data are available for Metropolitan Divisions
- This is more problematic in Seattle where three out of four jobs in the metro division are outside the city limits, while two thirds of restaurant jobs in the San Francisco metro division are in the city
- In addition, the monthly data are not seasonally adjusted and subject to a substantial margin of error
I have copied the full article with charts below and it’s also linked above, but Stephen concludes the following, acknowledging that more analysis will be needed as more data becomes available:
- Had restaurant employment in San Francisco grown at the same rate as in the rest of the U.S., there would be 2,520 more restaurant jobs in the San Francisco metro division
- Had restaurant employment in Seattle grown at the same rate as in the rest of the U.S., there would be 1,175-1,490 more restaurant jobs in the Seattle metro division
Last year Seattle decided to increase its minimum wage to $15 per hour over several years. The first increase to $11 per hour, for large employers, became effective on April 15th. Last fall San Francisco also adopted a plan to increase its minimum wage to $15 over the next few years and the first increase to $12.25 per hour became effective on May 1st. Because many restaurant workers earn less than the new minimum wages, most economists expect restaurant employment to decline in these cities as competition encourages restaurants to economize on labor costs.
Earlier this month Mark Perry, of the American Enterprise Institute, observed that job creation in Seattle’s restaurant industry stalled in 2015, perhaps due to the minimum wage hike. Last week Erik Sherman, a Forbes contributor, took issue with Perry’s interpretation of the data and purported to show that employment in San Francisco’s restaurant industry has grown since its minimum wage increase.
In this post I take a closer look at restaurant industry employment in San Francisco and Seattle. Before turning to the data it is important to understand its limitations. The minimum wage laws apply to cities but Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment data are available for Metropolitan Divisions. This is more problematic in Seattle where three out of four jobs in the metro division are outside the city limits, while two thirds of restaurant jobs in the San Francisco metro division are in the city. In addition, the monthly data are not seasonally adjusted and subject to a substantial margin of error. For this reason I focus on year-over-year changes in quarterly employment averages. I find that food service job growth slowed in Seattle since the minimum wage increase. In San Francisco, where more detailed data are available, there has been slower job growth in restaurants, but caterers and food trucks are growing more rapidly after the minimum wage increase.
About 40 percent of the typical household’s food budget is for meals away from home and this increases to 46 percent for households in the top income quintile (from the Consumer Expenditure Survey). The “Food Services and Drinking Places” industry is prominent in San Francisco and Seattle; it accounts for about 10 percent of private sector jobs in San Francisco and 7 percent in Seattle. This is not surprising because San Francisco and Seattle are among the wealthiest cities in the U.S.
Higher minimum wages will cause restaurants to economize on labor costs and hire fewer employees even in relatively wealthy cities. Competition will encourage food service companies to find less labor intensive methods of delivering prepared meals to their customers. For example, customers placing orders on computer tablets can reduce the demand for food servers.
San Francisco: Slowing Job Growth in Brick and Mortar Restaurants
The following table presents annual percentage changes in second quarter employment in several restaurant categories in the San Francisco metro division as well as the remainder of the U.S., and in San Francisco outside the food services industry. The table shows a slowdown in job growth in brick and mortar restaurants in the past year. The all restaurants industry group, which includes full service and limited service restaurants, snack bars, and cafeterias, saw job growth of only 0.31% in the past year. Restaurant employment grew much less rapidly than in other sectors in San Francisco in the past year. In addition, had restaurant employment grown at the same rate as in the rest of the U.S., there would be 2,520 more restaurant jobs in the San Francisco metro division.
There has, however, been rapid employment growth (33.5% in the past year or 2,800 jobs) in the Special Food Services industry, which includes caterers and food trucks. This continues a recent trend; employment at caterers and food trucks has more than doubled since 2011. Although caterers and food trucks accounted for less than 10% of food services jobs in San Francisco in 2014, they accounted for more than 60% of job growth in food services over the past year so that overall growth in food service jobs slowed by 1.7% in the past year.
Declining Food Service Employment in Seattle
The most detailed BLS employment data reported for the Seattle metro division is for the “Food Services and Drinking Places” industry group. The following table presents annual changes in second quarter employment for “Food Services and Drinking Places” in the Seattle metro division and the rest of the U.S., and private sector employment in the Seattle metro division outside the food services industry.
The table demonstrates that employment in the food services industry in the Seattle metro division grew more slowly than in other regions of the U.S. and more slowly than in other industries in Seattle. Depending on the alternative benchmark used there are 1,175 to 1,490 fewer food service jobs than there would have been had employment grown at the same rate as elsewhere.
While results based on preliminary and noisy data should be interpreted with caution, and more detailed studies will be required as city minimum wages increase even more, higher minimum wages appear to be disrupting the restaurant industry in San Francisco and Seattle and causing a reduction in jobs. In San Francisco minimum wages might be diverting customers to caterers and food trucks, perhaps because they are better equipped to adjust to higher labor costs. The first wave of minimum wage increases appears to have led to the loss of over 1,100 food service jobs in the Seattle metro division and over 2,500 restaurant jobs in the San Francisco metro division. These estimates are likely to be conservative, especially in Seattle, because many jobs in the metro division are outside the city limits and not subject to the minimum wage increase.
*This is a guest post by Stephen Bronars, Partner at Edgeworth Economics, Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Chicago. His opinions are his own.
 The San Francisco metropolitan includes San Francisco and San Mateo Counties but excludes Alameda, Marin and Contra Costa Counties and the city of Oakland. The Seattle metropolitan division includes King County and Snohomish County but excludes Pierce County and the city of Tacoma.
 The Seattle calculation is based on the BLS LAUS data and the San Francisco calculation is based on County Business Patterns.
 According to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, San Francisco County ranks fifth and King County, Washington ranks sixteenth among the 340 largest counties in the U.S., ranked by median earnings
 The San Francisco minimum wage was set at $8.50 in 2004 and indexed to inflation. The increase from 2014 to 2015 was $1.51 compared to $0.32, $0.31 and $0.19 in previous years.
 This includes full service restaurants, limited service restaurants, cafeterias, snack and non-alcoholic beverage bars, drinking places, food service contractors, mobile food services and caterers.
 The Washington state minimum wage increased by $0.37, $0.15 and $0.13 per hour between 2011 and 2014, and the Seattle minimum wage increase from 2014 to 2015 was $1.68 per hour.