Minimum wage not so small - 15-cent increase likely to make state
rate top in nation
The state is expected to have the highest minimum wage in the nation -- a step in the right direction or a dubious distinction depending on one's point of view.
"Fifteen cents an hour doesn't go too far, but I guess it's better than nothing," said Brandon Lyons, who worked in South Sound for minimum wage during the summer as a landscaper. "I worked to get some spending money before college, but if I didn't live at home, there's no way I could get by."
The increase, which is mandated by a voter-approved law that adjusts the minimum wage every year to reflect inflation, was announced Tuesday by the Department of Labor & Industries.
Business groups bemoaned the 2.1 percent increase based on the national Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners and clerical workers.
The state affiliate of the National Federation of Independent Business said the wage announcement is "more bad news for an economy still struggling to turn itself around."
"This is not something to celebrate," Carolyn Logue, state director for the country's largest small-business group, said in a news release.
"The first victims of this are youths looking for their first jobs, students needing some part-time work to meet expenses and seniors looking to remain active by helping out ...
"Let's be clear about one thing -- the minimum wage is an entry-level wage. It is not a living wage earned by people raising families. Ninety percent of them make much more than the minimum wage," she said.
About 74,000 Washington residents, or 3.5 percent of the work force, earned minimum wage in 2001, according to Paul Turek, labor economist for the state Employment Security Department.
L&I predicted that Washington will have the highest minimum rate in the country. Alaska's is expected to stay at $7.15; Connecticut is scheduled to rise to $7.10; and Oregon recently announced a $7.05 minimum for next year.
The federal minimum is $5.15 an hour, but states can adopt higher minimums.
The Washington increase will translate into an additional $6 a week for full-time workers. The annual pay for 40 hours a week for 52 week at minimum wage will be $14,893.
From a broad perspective, the increase will have a scant impact on the number of jobs.
"Generally, the effect tends to be fairly minimal across the board," Turek said. "The proportion of workers who make minimum wage is not very high. They are usually just starting out, very young and without much experience. They are on the low end of the totem pole. Everyone has to start somewhere, and that's what these types of jobs provide."
Many people working for minimum wage are secondary wage earners supplementing a household income, Turek said.
The increase in minimum wage will likely lead to some job cuts in industries that rely substantially on low-wage labor -- fast food, retail and agriculture, he said.
"When you spread out the effect over the whole economy, it's hardly noticeable," Turek said. "But for specific businesses in some sectors it will increase their bottom-line labor costs enough to force adjustments. It's a mixed picture depending on where you look at it from."
Chris Clough is business editor for The Olympian. He can be reached
at 360-754-5403 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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