Washington State Minimum Wage Still Highest in Country

On January 1, 2008 Washington State’s minimum wage will increase 14 cents to $8.07/hour. We will still be the highest in the nation.

California’s minimum wage will increase 50 cents to $8.00/hour. California will share second place with Massachusetts whose minimum wage is also rising to $8.00/hour.

Oregon comes in fourth – their minimum wage will go from $7.80 to $7.95 on Jan 1, 2008. Oregon’s minimum wage law was passed by voters as Measure 25 in 2002.

Earlier this year the Oregon Center for Public Policy released a study entitled “Job Growth Not Dampened by Minimum Wage Increases.” They noted that “… minimum wage cost-of-living adjustments have not led to the dire consequences predicted by the farm and restaurant industries that opposed pegging the minimum wage to inflation. “

Montana voters in 2006 also passed a minimum wage initiative like Washington’s that included the yearly increase based on the Consumer Price Index. Montana’s minimum wage will go up 10 cents to $6.25/hour in 2008.

Washington State’s minimum wage is adjusted each year based on increases in the Federal Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. The State Department of Labor and Industries adjusts the wage level based on a one year period ending August 31st . The adjusted wage goes into effect the following January 1st.

The wage adjustment takes place each year because in 1998 Washington voters passed Initiative 688. with a 66% yes vote. The initiative is fairly brief but it was the first in the nation to require that the minimum wage be increased each year to reflect any increase in inflation.

The initiative was a case study in how the initiative process can be used by progressives to both win policy issues with lasting impact and to aid progressive candidates. In an analysis of the campaign done after the election by the Economic Opportunity Institute they noted that:

“The minimum wage issue helped to define the policy debate of the 1998 elections. It did so by adding a progressive, populist, broadbased, and majoritarian issue about economic security to the ballot.
The minimum wage initiative contest drew the most votes (total votes: 1,904,205: yes-1,259,456, no-644,749) of all the ballot issues and candidate contests in the election, including the U.S. Senate race. The pro-initiative vote was the highest vote-getter for all candidates and issues, outdistancing Senator Murray’s vote by 156,000 votes and the next highest vote for a statewide initiative by 137,000 votes.
The initiative created a draw for voters. Polling indicated that turnout may have increased by as much as four percentage points, thanks to the minimum wage initiative. That is, when people found out that the minimum wage initiative was on the ballot, the turnout of voters increased by 4%. This was even more pronounced among voters with poor voting histories, who accounted for 52% of the drop-off voters who were moved by this issue.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted in its lead editorial on November 5: “Murray’s better-than-expected showing may have been boosted by the presence on the ballot of Initiative 688, which raised the state’s minimum wage and made Washington the first state to link future minimum wage increases to inflation. That initiative doubtless produced an extra measure of voters who line up in Murray’s camp….The initiative passed with a higher approval rating, 67%, than any other statewide issue.”
The Democrats unexpectedly won 50% of the contests for the state House of Representatives, picking up 8 seats, moving from a 57-41 minority to a 49-49 tie, while the State Senate switched from a 26-23 Republican majority to a 27-22 Democratic majority. Of the contested seats, 4 seats were won with less than 2 percentage points separating the Democrat from the Republican, 1 seat was won with a margin under 3 percentage points, and 1 seat was won with a margin of less than 5 percentage points. We attribute these victory margins to the draw of the minimum wage initiative. “

Previously Washington State’s minimum wage was held hostage by business interests and state legislators that refused to act to raise the minimum wage to reflect inflation. Without this yearly adjustment workers saw the minimum lose purchasing power each year the Washington State Legislature didn’t act.

A 2004 study by Marilyn Watkins of the Economic Opportunity Institute noted that even with the passage of I-688 Washington new minimum wage had not kept pace with inflation when one considered that in 1968 Washington’s minimum wage was $1.80/hour. In 2004 when Washington State’s minimum wage was $7.16 she calculated that if it had kept pace with inflation since 1968 it should have been $8.40.

Based on the inflation increase between 2004 and 2008 I calculated that Washington State’s 2008 minimum wage would have to be $9.47 instead of $8.07 if we had kept pace with the minimum wage in 1968.

Unfortunately the recently passed Federal increase in the minimum wage, after 10 years with no increase, did not include the annual adjustment requirement based on inflation that Washington State initiated. Including an inflation increase adjustment each year must be a priority in the next minimum wage increase Congress enacts.

It is ridiculous to have to repeatedly fight the same battle year after year in Congress just to have the minimum wage keep pace with inflation. Minimum wage workers deserve better that getting a raise every 10 years which is how long Republicans prevented the last increase from occurring.

At least the takeover by Congress by the Democrats allowed the increase this year. Despite those that say Congress isn’t doing anything, they are doing something. If the Republicans were still in control there would not have been any increase in the Federal minimum wage this year. But you probably would have seen more tax loopholes and tax breaks for the very wealthy.

There is a basic difference between the Democrats and the Republicans and the minimum wage struggles in Congress demonstrate it. Democrats support helping those that need help on the lower income levels. Republicans support helping the millionaires by giving tax breaks that mostly benefit the very wealthy. Such efforts have lead to the increasing income disparity between the rich and the poor that divides America more and more.

Comments are closed.