By Christopher S. Rugaber
WASHINGTON -- Maybe a higher minimum wage isn't so bad for job growth after all.
The 13 U.S. states that raised their minimum wages at the beginning of this year are adding jobs at a faster pace than those that did not, providing some counterintuitive fuel to the debate over what impact a higher minimum has on hiring trends.
Many business groups argue that raising the minimum wage discourages job growth by increasing the cost of hiring. A Congressional Budget Office report earlier this year lent some support for that view. It found that a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour, as President Obama supports, could cost 500,000 jobs nationwide.
But the state-by-state hiring data, released Friday by the Labor Department, provides ammunition to those who disagree. Economists who support a higher minimum say the figures are encouraging, though they acknowledge they don't establish a cause and effect. There are many possible reasons hiring might accelerate in a particular state.
"It raises serious questions about the claims that a raise in the minimum wage is a jobs disaster," said John Schmitt, a senior economist at the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research. The job data "isn't definitive," he added, but is "probably a reasonable first cut at what's going on."
Just last week, Obama cited the better performance by the 13 states in support of his proposal for raising the minimum wage nationwide.
"When ... you raise the minimum wage, you give a bigger chance to folks who are climbing the ladder, working hard.... And the whole economy does better, including businesses," Obama said in Denver.