While being well-intentioned and possessing some strong selling points, Initiative 1433 to raise the minimum wage in Washington would be a big leap forward when more incremental steps are necessary. The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a “no” vote on the statewide ballot measure.
As always, this is merely a recommendation designed to add to the discussion. The Columbian trusts the desire and the ability of voters to examine the issue before casting an informed ballot.
Adding to a national debate surrounding the minimum wage, I-1433 would increase Washington’s rate by a set amount each of the next four years until it reaches $13.50 an hour in 2020. The minimum would go to $11 next year, followed by $11.50 in 2018, and $12 in 2019; after 2020, the rate would be annually adjusted for inflation. The ballot measure also would require employers to provide paid sick leave.
Washington’s current minimum wage is $9.47 an hour, the seventh highest among the states, and the rate is adjusted annually for inflation. As recently as 2014, Washington had the nation’s highest minimum wage, but several states have since adopted higher rates. In addition, several states have approved graduated increases for the coming years, including Oregon, California, and New York. As The (Tacoma) News Tribune wittily editorialized: “All the cool states are doing it.”
Peer pressure, however, should not be the determining factor for Washington’s minimum wage. The question is how to strike the best balance between the state’s employers and employees while promoting a wage that helps the economy to flourish.
Undoubtedly, it is difficult to consider $9.47 an hour a living wage. Low wages mean that even those who are employed often are reliant upon government largesse such as Medicaid and food stamps. Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, for example, have been singled out by pundits as America’s biggest welfare queens, with studies demonstrating that their employees qualify for an untoward amount of public assistance.
That, however, suggests the need for broader reform than can be found in an increase to Washington’s minimum wage. At the federal level, it is unconscionable that the minimum wage is $7.25, where it has remained since 2009. Congress next year should quickly enact a vast minimum-wage increase, make wealthy companies pay their employees a wage that reduces reliance upon public assistance, and pass those savings along to taxpayers.
In the meantime, Washington’s proposed minimum-wage increase is a leap too far. While any minimum level is inevitably arbitrary, it is notable that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and the Washington Restaurant Association have said they could support a wage of $12 an hour.
It also is notable that Washington has a veritable petri dish for examining the effect of a minimum-wage increase. Seattle has approved an incremental increase toward $15 an hour, starting with a bump to $11 an hour last year. A long-term study of that increase will provide solid information rather than the rhetoric that is pervasive on both sides of the issue.
As the nation has moved from a manufacturing economy to a service-based one, the notion of the minimum wage as being solely for entry-level or part-time workers has been rendered obsolete. There is a need for a robust minimum wage to support working families, but in our opinion Initiative 1433 goes too far.