January 7, 2014

By Staff

Minimum wage talk starts good discussion

Income equality is the driving force behind the much talked about potential for a $15 minimum wage across the state. The $15 question was put to a vote in the city of SeaTac in November and narrowly passed.

Washington state currently has the highest state minimum wage in the nation, which increases with inflation and stands at $9.32 this year.

While we believe every worker should have the right to a decent wage, the $15/hour equates to $31,200 annually, not even the $41,000/year estimated as a living wage for a family of four in King County. So why stop at $15?

Here’s why.

Economic recovery has exacerbated a trend of the past decades of the top end of the pay scale doing ever better while the bottom stagnates. Supporters of income equality may hope that top executives will reduce their wages to pay the workers; it is not likely to happen. It would take an act of Congress to set a federal law limiting the amount CEOs can be paid, capping it perhaps at 10 percent to 20 percent of the total payroll similar to the cap on executive contributions to 401Ks.

While a higher minimum wage could put upward pressure on wages overall and could be great for workers, it is likely to create some nightmares for small businesses. The money would come from somewhere. Employees may pay more toward company-provided health insurance or lose it altogether. Total employee hours may be cut, and you can bet that the cost of goods would increase.

While it’s true that 10.9 percent of King County families live below the poverty level, some will remain there no matter what the minimum wage. We’d love to live in a world where no one must subsist below poverty level, but we also believe that the state already has many programs in place to help workers retrain toward better paying jobs.

We love that SeaTac has opened a nationwide discussion now that the country is back on track to economic recovery. But those discussions need to focus on a realistic wage, caps on executive pay, better education and job training.



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