Initiative 688, the Paycheck Protection Act, is a ballot measure in Washington State that will increase the minimum wage to $5.70 per hour on January 1, 1999 and to $6.50 per hour on January 1, 2000. Thereafter, the minimum wage will be adjusted annually by the rate of inflation. An increase in the minimum wage will be a key step in bringing low income workers into the middle class.
Why an Increase in the Minimum Wage is Needed
The primary impetus to increase the minimum wage is to enable people who work full time to earn their way out of poverty. The intent of Congress when initiating a federal minimum wage was to assure “the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers” through the minimum wage. However, Washington has the lowest minimum wage on the West Coast and only 15 states have a lower wage nation-wide. California’s minimum wage is $5.75 and Oregon’s is $6.00, on its way to $6.50 in 1999. These increases were passed overwhelmingly by citizen initiative.
The federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour covers most workers in Washington. However, Washington’s state minimum wage of $4.90 per hour applies to many restaurant employees and people whose jobs do not involve interstate commerce. Whether at $4.90 or $5.15 per hour Washington State workers are not assured an adequate standard of living. Instead, minimum wage workers are forced to live in poverty, barely making over $10,000 annually. Despite the strong performance of Washington’s economy over the past two years, the state’s lowest paid workers have fallen behind by virtually every measure.
- Inflation: The buying power of Washington State’s minimum wage has fallen 36 percent since 1968.
- Per capita income: The per capita income of Washington state’s minimum wage workers has steadily decreased in recent years. Workers currently earn 38 percent of Washington’s per capita income level, down from 46 percent in 1993.
- Poverty level: At $4.90 an hour, a full-time worker earns 30% below the federal poverty threshold for a family of four and 15% below poverty for a family of three. Since 1973, the percentage of workers earning wages that pay below the poverty level has increased from 23 percent to 30 percent — almost a third of the U.S. workforce.
- Wage Floor: The 1996-97 federal minimum wage increase only brought the wage floor to 82% of its 1979 value.