Washington’s second gubernatorial debate at an Association of Washington Business (AWB) event in Blaine, WA focused heavily on economic issues. One thing caught our attention: Republican candidate Dino Rossi’s support for lowering the state’s minimum wage, currently at $8.07/hour.
His reasoning? “Minimum wage was not meant to be a family wage; it’s meant to be an entry level wage.” But the facts don’t back up Rossi’s claim. According to the U.S. Census, 75% of workers affected by the minimum wage in Washington are over 20, and nearly half work full time.
Rossi also claims that job and opportunities are lost to other states because of Washington’s “unfriendly business climate.” There is strong evidence that the opposite is true, at least as far as Washington’s minimum wage is concerned.
The two years following passage of the law (1999 and 2000) saw the largest increases in Washington’s minimum wage. During the same two years, employment actually increased in the very industries employing the largest number of minimum wage workers. And in the past year alone, Washington has gained 4,000 new restaurant jobs—jobs that almost always pay the minimum wage.
The evidence also shows that current increases in our state unemployment rate are due to the national economic recession—not the minimum wage. Many businesses don’t even notice the yearly cost-of-living adjustments, which have been so successful that more than 10 states have followed suit.
A predicable change in the minimum wage to account for the increased cost of living ensures workers don’t lose ground in a changing economy. What’s more, it isn’t subject to partisan political wrangling, so it is much easier to anticipate for employers. In fact, the AWB’s own Don Brunell is on record in the New York Times last year saying the AWB:
is no longer fighting the minimum-wage law, which is adjusted every year in line with the consumer price index. “You don’t see us screaming out loud about this,” said Don Brunell, president of the trade group, which represents 6,300 members. … Washington’s robust economy, which added nearly 90,000 jobs last year, is proof that even with the country’s highest minimum wage, “this is a great place to do business,” Mr. Brunell said.
Ten years ago, two-thirds of voters in every county in the state voted to pass Initiative 688, giving Washington its current minimum wage law. Here’s hoping Rossi is still listening to the will of the people.