Mayor Ed Murray will give his inaugural State of the City address on Tuesday. While it’s still unclear whether he’ll mention the push to raise the minimum wage, folks on the local, state, and even federal levels are already talking about it.
Lawmakers in Olympia are currently considering a proposal that would raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2017.
Then, on Tuesday at Molly Moon’s in Capitol Hill, Senator Patty Murray and U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene will join business owners in calling for a raise of the federal minimum wage as well.
“I think this is absolutely the right conversation to be having. We should be talking about the minimum wage in this country, and at all different levels. The federal, state, and city level,” said Marilyn Watkins, who is the policy director at Seattle’s Economic Opportunity Institute.
She says having so many different people and groups pushing a minimum wage increase at the same time isn’t unheard of.
“The way our system works, our political system has worked this way for quite some time, is that a lot of the innovation and the push in policy starts happening first at the local level,” she said.
On Monday night, business owners in Capitol Hill talked minimum wage in private, at a closed door meeting with members of Mayor Ed Murray’s Income Inequality Task Force. The idea behind the private meeting was to allow business owners to express their concerns in a candid, protected environment,
KING 5 caught up with a few of them as they left the meeting.
“We want to make sure that we have a part in this discussion, and make sure folks know that this could potentially have a huge impact,” said Freddy Rivas, who owns a restaurant on Capitol Hill.
He said that a $15/hour minimum wage would force small businesses to raise their price, which would in turn impact the entire economy.
“We can’t escape that,” he said. “They take a hit, we take a hit. The mood in a nutshell is that we’re concerned, we’re extremely concerned.”
The Economic Opportunity Institute has done a lot of research on the issue, that according to Watkins, shows no negative impact on job growth when you raise minimum wage.
The unknown, she says, is what will happen if the minimum wage in Seattle is raised to $15/hour, since it is such a large jump from the current rate.
“I think that would be a real hardship for a lot of those local, small business owners,” she said. “And if I were designing the policy, it would definitely be a staged increase, and not something that happens all at once.”
She says the bill that’s been introduced in the state legislature would do just that, raising the minimum wage first to $10, then $11, and finally $12/hour by 2017.
Watkins also says that had the federal minimum wage kept pace with where it was in the 1960s, it would now be at $10/hour.
“I think most Americans are pretty uncomfortable with the concept that people who are working hard and playing by the rules are having so much trouble in today’s economy, just surviving,” she said.
Watkins said it’s hard to predict what will happen next, but she ultimately thinks the minimum wage will rise in Seattle and Washington before the rest of the nation.