Potential Minimum Wage Increase In Washington State Spurs Debate

, Posted: Wed, October 30 2013 at 6:29 PM, Updated: Wed, October 30 2013 at 7:31 PM

Attention minimum wage workers, does $15 an hour sound good to you?

For many folks in SeaTac, Washington it does and it could become a reality if the campaign succeeds.

The proposal comes on the heels of the rallies that broke out this past summer where fast food workers demanded more pay. Now, the minimum wage debate has gained steam across the U.S.

In Southern Oregon, Michael Hays works at a coffee stand making minimum wage at $8.95. He's like many people who work a minimum wage gig and sometimes struggle to make ends meet.

"I know if I was getting $15 an hour I would be really happy," said Hays.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 is exactly what some people are trying to do up in SeaTac, Washington and it looks like it's gaining traction. Both mayoral candidates there are reportedly in support of the rate hike.

While John Kinard, a business professor at Southern Oregon University does not believe the proposal will pass in Washington, he says if a similar one was unveiled in Oregon, small businesses would be negatively impacted.

"If you were to go from $10-$15 in one swoop [...] I think it would have a significant impact on small business," said John Kinard, a Business Professor at Southern Oregon University.

A Boost to Minimum Wage Would Hit Small Businesses

Ann Wilton, owner of Renaissance Rose in Ashland agrees. Even at nine-dollars an hour she struggles to keep up. She said the outlook would be even more bleak if the minimum wage skyrocketed.

"We couldn't handle it at 15. We just couldn't handle it. It would put us out of business," said Wilton.

"In the realities of this particular economy, when each year we're seeing our gross sales go down, I don't see how we can have our minimum wage go up," she continued.

According to Professor Kinard at SOU, the cost would ultimately be paid for by the consumer.

"If you're a restaurant, you're not just going to absorb that kind of wage increase. You're going to pass that along to your customers," he said.

Oregon Businesses Better Off Than In Other States

But Kinard also says if there were an increase in the minimum wage in Oregon, businesses in the state wouldn't be hit too hard when compared with businesses in other states where minimum wages also went up.

"Oregon has the second lowest business tax rate in the country next to Delaware," he said.

What About Income Inequality?

While Oregon is in pretty good shape when it comes to taxes imposed on businesses, in regard to another issue closely related to minimum wage is income inequality. In that sphere, Kindard said the state could do better to reduce the gap.

"I think [income inequality] is a real thing where the middle class is being sort of eviscerated in this whole process."

According to Professor Kinard, if we calculated inflation rates from 1965, Oregonians should be making closer to $17-$18 an hour to be keeping up and unfortunately it doesn't look like that will be happening anytime soon.

He said workers who get paid at minimum levels probably should be making more.

"I think they deserve more than what we're currently paying in the way of minimum wage."

"It's hard for a single person, family member or parent to live on $30,000 a year. That's barely above the poverty line [...] and that's the minimum wage," said Kinard.

Meantime, for Hays who works hard for his money...

"God I would love for it to go up," said Hays.

A little more cash would mean more money that he could spend in the local economy.

Kinard says Oregon has the second highest minimum wage in the country. Washington has the highest. By 2016 California plans to increase their minimum wage to $10 an hour. The Federal rate is $7.25 per hour.

Back in 2002 Oregon voters decided to support a measure that would allow the minimum wage to be adjusted every year for inflation. That adjustment typically adds 15-cents to a person's pay rate which equates to an increase of roughly $300 per year for a minimum wage earner.

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