Washington State Minimum Wage Frequently Asked Questions

Report | February 1, 2001

Executive Summary

Why raise the minimum wage?

Because working families in Washington need it. The primary impetus to increase the minimum wage is to enable people who work full time to earn their way out of poverty. Current minimum wage workers are forced to live in poverty. A full-time worker who makes $5.15 an hour earns barely over $10,000 annually, 30% below the federal poverty threshold for a family of four and 15% below for a family of three. In Washington state, we don’t have a minimum wage, we have a miniature wage. At $4.90 an hour, Washington state has the lowest minimum wage on the West Coast.

In spite of a successful economy, the state’s lowest paid workers have fallen beyond by virtually every measure.

  • Inflation. The buying power of WA state minimum wage workers has fallen 36 percent since 1968.
  • Income. The per capita income of WA minimum wage workers has steadily decreased in recent years (workers currently earn 38 percent of WA’s per capita income level, down from 46% in 1993).
  • Poverty level. At $4.90 an hour, a full-time workers earns 30% below the federal poverty threshold for a family of three.
  • Wage Floor. The 96-97 federal minimum wage increase only brought the wage floor to 82% of its 1979 value.

Who makes minimum wages? Aren’t they mostly teenagers and part-timers?

Raising the minimum wage to $6.50 would restore two-thirds of the loss in the wage’s buying power since 1976. The Employment Security Department estimates that approximately 289,495 employees in Washington, or 13 percent of the state’s workforce, would directly benefit from the hike to $6.50 an hour.

  • Age Seventy percent of minimum wage workers in Washington are adults.
  • Employment Status Forty-three percent of all minimum wage workers work full time, and 40 percent work between 20 and 35 hours a week.
  • Share of Income 35 percent are the only wage earners in their families. The average minimum wage worker provides 54% of his or her family’s weekly earnings. Of the youth who are minimum wage earners, 60 percent are in families with below average incomes.
  • Gender Nearly three of every four minimum wage earners are women (72 percent).
  • Benefits Only 20 percent of Washington’s minimum wage workers receive health care benefits, only seven percent receive retirement benefits, and 73 percent don’t even get paid for legal holidays.
  • Impact of Previous Minimum Wage Increases Almost 60% of the total wage gains from the 1996-97 increase in the federal minimum wage went to workers in the lower two-fifths of American households, while 73% of the total wage gains went to workers in the bottom three-fifths. Those households below the median income disproportionately benefited from the minimum wage increase.

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