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Horrors! Seattle is Moving to a $15/hour Minimum Wage

Bill DiBenedetto | Thursday June 12th, 2014 | 3 Comments

Seattle_SkylineSeattle’s move to phase-in an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour (from the current $9.32) is described variously as: audacious; a “step too far;” a misguided experiment; a worthy experiment; built on dubious economics; and a move that will “destroy the economy.”

It can’t be all of that, can it? The volume of the punditry and spinning on this one is shrill, and the scope of the alarmed, breathless opinion and analysis by the “very serious people” about Seattle’s bold move obscures the bottom line: A region is trying to do the right thing for its workers in these parlous economic times. (Conflict of interest alert: The author lives in — and loves — Seattle.)

Will it be the end of the world as we know it? Here’s what happened. On June 2 the Seattle City Council unanimously approved the adoption of a $15 per hour minimum wage, making Seattle the first major city in America to take this type of action to address income inequality. Beginning April 1, 2015, the legislation will phase-in a $15 per hour minimum wage annually over three to seven years, depending on employer size.

“Today we answer President [Barack] Obama’s call and the moral call to address the plight of low wage workers,” said Councilmember Sally J. Clark, chair of the city council’s Select Committee on the Minimum Wage and Income Inequality. “Seattle’s new law puts low wage workers on a path to $15 and does it in a way that respects Seattle’s love for local businesses and world-leading innovation.”

Twenty-four percent of Seattle workers earn hourly wages of $15 per hour or less, and about 13.6 percent of the Seattle community of 652,000 lives below the federal poverty level, according to a University of Washington study. Washington state’s minimum wage is currently $9.32 per hour, but effective April 1, 2015, the minimum wage in Seattle will be $10.00 or $11.00 per hour depending on employer size.

“With inaction at the state and national levels, it’s time for cities to demonstrate bold and necessary leadership to address income inequality,” said Council President Tim Burgess. “Seattle has found a workable and careful compromise that recognizes both the harm caused by stagnant wages and the harm to local businesses should we move forward too quickly.”

And that’s the thing — the increase might take as many as seven years to fully kick-in. From that perspective it’s pretty modest. Coastal cities might be underwater by 2022, and we might all be wearing air filtration devices and wet-suits by then as well.

“This is a victory for our movement – it shows the power of working people when we organize and fight for our rights,” said Councilmember Kshama Sawant, an economics professor and socialist who was elected to the city council largely on a platform urging a minimum wage increase. “It will inspire millions of people all over the nation to build on this historic step forward. Fifteen in Seattle is just the beginning.”

Maybe there is a degree of jealousy and guilt at work: Somewhere deep down in all the hue and cry, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, maybe other cities and their voters are glad that a major city is progressive enough to lead the way. Maybe, as reported by ThinkProgress, they are watching closely — someone had to take that first step.

Image credit: Seattle skyline at night by Kevin Cappis via Flickr


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  1. June 12, 2014 at 17:50 pm PDT | Guest writes:

    If you are a small business in Seattle you probably are not going to sleep well at night. If you are like the author of this article and have no skin in the game, you will probably sleep just fine.

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    • June 13, 2014 at 11:02 am PDT | ace writes:

      you think people are just going to squirrel that extra few dollars an hour away and never spend it? it goes back into the economy, stupid!

      just like the stimulus did under bush AND obama. the biggest problem with businesses that pay minimum wage is NOT the amount of wage they have to shell out, its the turn around. people that have minimum wage jobs often QUIT those jobs. its more expensive to train someone new starting at 10/hr than to keep someone who is trained at 12/hr…SO… if you have a small business you arent worried about paying your $10 an hour employees $15 an hour because you probably have 6 employees on a rotating schedule and expect to see business go up because people now have money to spend and now your employees are afraid of losing their jobs because they make almost twice what people in neighboring states make….also if you have a business that wouldnt see an increase once people start seeing more money in their checks…your business wasnt going to survive anyway.

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