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Raising the Minimum Wage Is an Investment in Washington’s Kids

Posted by Melinda Young-Flynn at Sep 14, 2016 03:25 PM |

By David Hlebain, interim policy analyst

In Washington state, a single parent with two kids working full-time at a minimum wage job has an income below the federal poverty level and far below what’s needed to meet the rising costs of basic necessities. (1) Raising the statewide minimum wage to $13.50 through Initiative 1433* on the November ballot will help change this and is an important step toward ensuring that all of Washington’s kids and families have the opportunity to thrive. 

A higher wage would help reduce poverty – something that is desperately needed right now. Child poverty in Washington increased nearly 30 percent between 2008 and 2014, with an additional 59,000 children growing up poor, according to KIDS COUNT. Even more troubling, only 31 percent of Black children, 31 percent of Latino children, and 26 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native children live in economically secure households (which is defined as 200 percent of the federal poverty line, or a $40,320 income for a family of three). 

Raising the minimum wage to $13.50 would improve the lives of these struggling Washington families. More than 360,000 Washington kids currently live in families where one or more parents make less than $13.50 per hour. (2) The proposed minimum wage increase would make a big difference for these families, providing an additional $700 per month for the average worker to help make ends meet. 

Further, raising the wage would increase the incomes of tens of thousands of families of color who are disproportionately likely to struggle economically as a result of historically racist policies that have excluded them from opportunities for jobs, education, homeownership, and more. 

By helping hundreds of thousands of Washington families lift themselves out of poverty, a $13.50 minimum wage would strengthen the economic and social well-being of Washington’s kids and families in three key ways:

Helping Kids Do Better In School

Children who experience instability at home because of poverty have a harder time concentrating at school. This can undermine children’s progress in the earliest stages of their education by impeding their cognitive, social, and emotional development. In fact, research demonstrates a significant gap in kindergarten readiness between children who grow up in poverty compared with kids from families with moderate and high incomes. 

If parents are earning higher wages, they have a greater ability to feed their family, pay the bills and rent, and maybe even afford enriching activities for their kids. As a result, their children are more likely to thrive at school. 

Healthier Kids

The economic security of families is critical to the health of kids. The lack of a safe, economically stable home can create toxic levels of stress for parents and kids. In fact, high-stress events experienced in childhood – including sustained economic hardship – are linked to poor health later in life, such as obesity, alcoholism, and depression. 

Because higher wages allow parents to put food on the table, a higher minimum wage can also help combat childhood hunger. Currently, more than 13 percent of Washington kids go hungry because their parents can’t afford to buy enough food, and those rates are even higher among children of color. Additionally, minimum wage increases have been shown to correlate with fewer babies born at low birthweights, one of the earliest indicators of the health of the next generation.

Strong Families and Homes

As mentioned previously, parents living in poverty can have heightened stress levels if they’re worried about paying rent and bills each month or having trouble dealing with unexpected costs, such as car repairs. This stress can detract from the necessary time and mental capacity for parents to fully engage with – and develop strong attachments to – their kids. Compromised parenting influences children in both the short term and the long term. Children who grow up in poverty are more likely to enter the child welfare system. And adversity experienced as kids can make transitioning to adulthood difficult.

Creating environments for kids to thrive requires policies that improve the well-being of parents and children. A higher wage for hardworking parents who make the minimum wage is a great investment in the strength of entire families and households.

The passage of Initiative 1433 would give more families the ability to improve their well-being. Indeed, it would allow more of Washington’s kids to have the chance to succeed in school, to have a healthy start in life, and to have their basic needs met. Raising the wage would help us build a better future for all of us. 

*Authors’ Note: The scope of this analysis focuses solely on the minimum wage component of Initiative 1433. The other component of I-1433, which provides sick and safe leave, also offers significant benefits to kids and families. For analysis on how a sick leave policy would strengthen the well-being of Washington’s families and communities, please see this recent press release published by Children’s Alliance and this report by the Economic Opportunity Institute. 

1. The 2016 federal poverty line for a family of three is $20,160. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s “Living Wage Calculator” estimates a single parent with two kids needs to earn $59,550 in order to cover costs of basic needs in Washington state. 

2. Economic Policy Institute analysis of Current Population Survey, Outgoing Rotation Group public use microdata 2014.

 

 

 

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