Raising the state minimum wage to $13.50 is about fairness to the low-wage workforce.
WASHINGTON voters reached for their wallets on Tuesday to give the state’s low-wage workers an extra-large tip. Based on early election results, it appears we can be offering a million workers a congratulations on a pay raise.
The unequivocal message sent by Initiative 1433 – which had a strong lead in early voting – is one of fairness. Instead of repeating the flawed trickle-down model of economic growth, voters liked the so-called “middle-out” approach of putting more money into the hands of low-wage workers and letting them spur growth.
The initiative, which The Seattle Times editorial board endorsed, gradually raises the statewide minimum wage from the current $9.47 to $11 in 2017, $11.50 in 2018, $12 in 2019 and $13.50 in 2020. It also requires employers to provide paid sick leave.
It is the nation’s most aggressive statewide minimum-wage increase on ballots countrywide in 2016. It fits with Washington’s history of having a robust wage floor; it also fits the national trend. Three other states voted on minimum-wage increases to $12 in Tuesday’s election; Colorado and Arizona approved the increases, and Maine’s initiative was leading.
While the initiative sends a message, it is more of a trumpet blast than a carefully tuned melody. The Legislature this year should have pre-empted the I-1433 campaign and raised the wage floor itself. A well-crafted minimum-wage bill would have recognized the widely differing costs of living in different parts of the state and followed the model the Oregon Legislature approved, which set three different wage levels.
When the Legislature returns in January, it should consider slowing implementation for lower-cost rural areas, which are less able than booming Seattle to quickly absorb jumps in the cost of labor. Restaurants and retail businesses will need time to adjust. The Legislature should also require a robust research study to tease out the impacts of a higher minimum wage.
Until then, raise a glass for your restaurant server and retail clerk. They have earned a raise.