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.
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.