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Why the Minimum Wage Debate Matters for Everyone

Posted by Lori Pfingst at Oct 17, 2013 05:10 PM |
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Low-wage jobs that offer few or no benefits are taking a toll on Washington state workers and their families, and, unless you are a large corporation, we all end up paying the price.  

Nationwide, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of participants in Medicaid, nutrition assistance, and similar services are from working families, a new report by the UC Berkeley Labor Center shows. Many of those workers are in industries that pay low wages, provide only part-time hours, and offer low benefits, which makes it impossible to meet basic needs or get ahead. 

The report showcases the fast-food industry, which is one of the most egregious for paying wages too low to live on and denying employees full-time work or adequate benefits.  Their workers often turn to public assistance so they can feed their families, pay utilities, and afford housing.  In Washington state alone, fast-food workers receive $96 million in assistance annually to make up for what their employers won’t pay in reasonable wages and benefits. 

The fast-food industry is not alone.  While large corporations throughout the economy post record profits, median wages have been stagnant for decades, making the current debate on increasing the minimum wage especially timely.  At $9.19 an hour, Washington state has the highest minimum wage in the country.  Yet its purchasing power is less than what it was in 1968 due to inflation (see figure). The majority (66 percent) of workers earning minimum wage are employed at large corporations,  not small businesses. 

minimum wage

A strong middle class depends upon hard-working employees receiving some of the profits they help generate.   Raising the minimum wage should be one part of a broader economic strategy to level the playing field between hard-working Washingtonians and large corporations.

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View the Budget Matters 2016 conference plenary panel, "What's at Stake in the 2017-2019 Budget: Funding McCleary and Beyond," on TVW. Moderated by Ann Dornfeld of KUOW with a budget overview by our own Andy Nicholas, the panel features Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, the 2016 Washington State Teacher of the Year; Lew Moore of the Washington Research Council; Roxana Norouzi of OneAmerica; and Sen. Christine Rolfes. The plenary starts after a brief intro by Executive Director Misha Werschkul and an intro video by Gov. Inslee.

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We testified in support of a number of important bills during the 2016 legislative session. Take a look:

  • Our testimony (at the 23:23 minute mark) on the House Bill that would take a two-generation approach to preventing poverty 
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