Mark Perry Doesn’t Understand Geography

@TBPInvictus here: As I recently highlighted, Mark Perry – an AEI scholar and professor of economics – is playing very fast and loose with data surrounding employment in Seattle post its recent minimum wage hike. In his recent “report” on the subject, which was picked up far and wide by conservative outlets, Professor Perry wrote (emphasis mine):

“In June of last year, the Seattle city council passed a $15 minimum wage law to be phased in over time, with the first increase to $11 an hour taking effect on April 1, 2015. What effect will the eventual 58% increase in labor costs have on small businesses, including area restaurants? It’s too soon to tell for sure, but there is already some evidence that the recent minimum wage hike to $11 an hour, along with the pending increase of an additional $4 an hour by 2017 for some businesses, has started having a negative effect on restaurant jobs in the Seattle area. The chart below shows that the Emerald City MSA started experiencing a decline in restaurant employment…”

The minimum wage hike took place in the city of Seattle, population ~650,000. What’s all this talk about “area restaurants,” “the Seattle area,” and the “Emerald City MSA”? (Note that companies with under 500 employees — that includes most restaurants — the actual date is 2021, not 2017).

This is simply someone with an agenda deliberately being intellectually dishonest in an attempt to mislead readers and spread misinformation widely through the conservative echo chamber. It’s a tried and true method that, unfortunately, has worked time and again.

When Perry talks about Seattle (city proper) and the “Seattle area,” you may not know it, but he’s talking about two very, very different areas.

Legislatively, economically, legally and socially, these are two completely different regions. Perhaps most important of all, in terms of data collection for the subject at hand, the map below shows exactly how different they are:


Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 6.08.17 PM


Seattle, the city in question whose minimum wage is now $11, on its way to $15 over the next 3-7 years – is (as best as Paintbrush lets me draw it) the area within the red oval. The “Seattle area” or “Emerald City MSA,” as Perry misleadingly wrote, are the three more darkly shaded counties – Pierce (bottom), King (middle), and Snohomish (top) – engulfing Seattle and making it look, well, geographically tiny in comparison.

The MSA Perry referenced as being impacted by the new minimum wage has an overall population of some 3.6 million versus the aforementioned population of Seattle at about 650,000. What’s to compare? As Media Matters put it in their takedown of Perry’s work: “The employment trends of the entire region are not representative of the impact of a local wage ordinance in a single city.” But Perry does not care, as he’s repeatedly referenced the same irrelevant data point multiple times on Twitter. He is exactly the man whom Upton Sinclair was referring to when he said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Why would anyone look at a MSA when it is the city – and ONLY THE CITY  – that has the new minimum wage law. The New York equivalent would be to suggest that perhaps an ordinance in New York City might somehow have a ripple effect in White Plains, N.Y., or Hackensack, N.J. After all, they are both part of the greater tri-state region (there is a massive New York-Newark-Jersey City MSA). It’s absurd on its face, and any honorable analyst understands this.

This suggests that Perry is engaging in fraud or ignorance. Neither reflects on him favorably. Perry should apologize and AEI should retract that piece in entirety.


An analyst as intellectually dishonest as Perry apparently is could do something similar on the flip side:

Seattle Passes Higher Minimum Wage; Area Food Biz Employment Now at 134,000!

First, I’d point out that at the end of 2013, the most recent year for which we have good statistics on the city itself, Seattle city employment in two broad categories combined – Arts, Entertainment & Recreation and Accommodation & Food Services – totaled about 40,000, as seen below.

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 6.36.53 PM

Source: American FactFinder

Then, I’d trumpet the “fact” that the “Seattle area” or “Emerald City MSA” (see what I did there?) has more than tripled that total to a whopping 134,000. I’d then claim victory at having “demonstrated” that the ordinance I supported was having its desired effect.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 7.47.13 PM

Source: St. Louis Fed

But I’d never do such a thing. Most reputable people wouldn’t.

For those interested in understanding better how data are referenced, you should know these key Census terms that are relevant in this discussion.


The Census Bureau uses this term to refer to most cities, some towns, villages and boroughs. [Ed. note: The city of Seattle is a Place.]

A concentration of population either legally bounded as an incorporated place, or identified as a Census Designated Place (CDP) including comunidades and zonas urbanas in Puerto Rico. Incorporated places have legal descriptions of borough (except in Alaska and New York), city, town (except in New England, New York, and Wisconsin), or village.


A geographic entity defined by the federal Office of Management and Budget for use by federal statistical agencies, based on the concept of a core area with a large population nucleus, plus adjacent communities having a high degree of economic and social integration with that core. Qualification of a metropolitan statistical area requires the presence of an Urbanized Area (UA) with a total population of at least 50,000. The concept of metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas and related statistical areas changed significantly in 2003. [Ed. note: The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue MSA is comprised of three counties – King, Pierce, and Snohomish – with a total population of about 3.6 million.]

For those who are still awake and interested (and for my future reference), the most thorough NAICS 72 data on Seattle are here, though (sadly) only through 2012. (The best and most accurate data usually come with long lags.)

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. VennData commented on Aug 18

    The American Enterprise Institute are all prostitutes for the Koch Brothers.

    Suck that Koch

    • Whammer commented on Aug 18

      Well, there are a couple of folks at the AEI who I think are intellectually honest — Norm Ornstein and James Pethokoukis. I don’t always agree with them by any means, but they are not stupid or shills.

  2. lo574 commented on Aug 18

    Honest journalism is clearly elusive to some.

  3. willid3 commented on Aug 18

    isnt he an economist? not a make maker?

    • Invictus commented on Aug 18

      I’d argue he’s neither.

  4. DeDude commented on Aug 18

    Classic AEI right wing approach. Cherry pick your parameter and/or geographical area and/or time period, such that it fits with the predefined narrative. By education he may be an “economist”, by (previous) employment he may be a “professor”, but by approach he is a dishonest hack.

  5. doug commented on Aug 18

    correcting BS lies from the AEI could be full job, with some OT.
    Even then, they will not stop doing it, as they are paid well to ‘figure’.
    But, thank you for this and many other ‘corrections’ that you have done. Much appreciated.

  6. Crocodile Chuck commented on Aug 18

    Invictus, I’d be interested in periodic updates on this topic from you. Thanks.

    • Invictus commented on Aug 18

      I’ve written several pieces on the Seattle min wage situation already, and will continue to do so as circumstances dictate and time allows.

  7. willid3 commented on Aug 18

    lets not let him read the map while we dive. we dont want to go to LA from NYC by way of Miami, KC, Chicago, Houston, Salt Lake, with a stop Seattle before we get to LA

  8. Moe commented on Aug 19

    He may not understand geography, but he sure knows about slavery. Did you know African Americans should thank us white folk for putting them through it and bringing them here – because, you know, their standard of living is so much better now!!…Scary to think this putz is teaching at a major university – warping young minds.

  9. Low Budget Dave commented on Aug 19

    I have gradually learned that the easiest way to tell if something is a good idea is to check to see if the people arguing against it are lying.

    I know only a small amount about the Iran deal, for example, but I can easily tell that most of the people arguing against it are using anecdotes, quantification fallacies, and outright lies to argue against it.

    If the only popular arguments against the Iran deal are nitwittery, then it is (usually) safe to asume it is a good deal.

  10. PhilW commented on Aug 20

    You just have to look at craigslist to get an idea of the impact of the increase in minimum wage, or lack of –

    “Experienced server wanted for busy restaurant in Pioneer Square. Must have dinner service experience.
    Our servers make between $550 and $650 in tips each week, plus a paycheck on the 5th and 20th of each month working 30 to 33 hrs a week.. ”

    “New CHIPOTLE opening in Seattle $11/HR! Come to open interviews TODAY! (Seattle)”

    “Customer Service / Cashiers at Bakery $11+ /per hour” (Piroshky Piroshky )

  11. PhilW commented on Aug 20

    The Washington Supreme Court has ruled that a voter-approved initiative to raise the minimum wage ($15/hr) in the city of SeaTac should apply to workers at the airport. Which is a big deal, Alaska Airlines fired all their ground crews a few years ago and replaced them with minimum wage outsourced workers.

    And from craigslist, an ad for a part-time housekeeper in Seatac –
    “We pay an above average hourly rate ($15+).
    Compensation: Free parking and paid meal break included on each shift. Paid sick time/ holidays and excellent medical benefits.”

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