My latest column moves beyond debate about the City of SeaTac’s Proposition 1 to the low-wage jobs issue that inspired it.
It is not clear whether voters will approve the Nov. 5 ballot proposal to raise minimum wage at Sea-Tac International Airport and nearby businesses to $15 an hour. The Washington Research Council opposes the measure out of concern for Washington employers who already contend with the nation’s highest workers’ comp benefits and fifth-highest unemployment insurance benefits. An economic impact analysis by the Economic Opportunity Institute says higher wages would boost the economy because people who earn more will spend more. Still, my colleague Thanh Tan wondered in a recent blog post why fast food strikes have not inspired more people to demand an increase in the minimum wage. And this piece in The Atlantic punctures inflated hopes by predicting little change on a national scale in the minimum wage.
Time to look beyond scattered city-by-city efforts and to the larger issue of education, chiefly its power to raise wages. Federal and state minimum wage laws create a solid floor for low-skilled workers. Union representation also helps. But there is near-universal agreement about an education premium, the idea that the best way for low-wage workers to earn more money is to get more education. The more value that can be created in one’s skill sets, the more someone might be willing to pay you.
The two women I profiled in my column, Roxan Seibel and LeeAnn Subelbia, would agree with me. Both said college is the route to better opportunity and away from the low-wage retail jobs both started out in, but only Subelbia was fortunate enough to earn a college degree. No surprise, she now owns two businesses employing a combined 50 people. This piece in The American Prospect wonders if education is the cure for poverty. I think it is part of the cure. Poverty is a debilitating condition that requires a number of strategies to overcome.
But as I point out in my column, efforts to raise the minimum wage are having mixed success. Stronger results lie in helping more students afford and attend college. What do you think?