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Topic: living wage

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September 3, 2013 at 6:05 AM

Raising minimum wage to an arbitrary $15 is not practical

Thursday’s fast-food strike around Seattle didn’t exactly inspire the masses to stand up and demand an immediate increase in the minimum wage. (Read The Seattle Times’ news report on the day’s activities.) As of Friday, more than 700 people voted in an informal survey posted within a Seattle Times news story. The majority were against paying fast-food workers $15 an hour.

Protestors block traffic on E. Pike St. in Seattle during rush hour Thursday Aug. 29, 2013 on their way to Broadway Avenue where they stood outside businesses and encouraged employees to join them in Seattle, Wash. They want the minimum wage to be raised to $15/hour. (AP Photo Seatte Times, Ellen M. Banner)

Protestors block traffic on E. Pike St. in Seattle during rush hour Thursday Aug. 29, 2013 on their way to Broadway Avenue where they stood outside businesses and encouraged employees to join them in Seattle, Wash. They want the minimum wage to be raised to $15/hour. (AP Photo Seatte Times, Ellen M. Banner)

Public opinion changes all the time. If folks have little sympathy for the $15 minimum wage movement right now, perhaps it’s because the discussion is too focused on an arbitrary figure of $15 and not focused enough on investing in education and programs to help people gain the skills they need to compete in today’s economy.

True, a lot of employees in fast-food restaurants are not moving up. They’re stuck. The answer shouldn’t be to raise wages for all, though. Washington state already boasts the highest minimum wage in the nation — $9.19 compared to the federal rate of $7.25 per hour. We should instead encourage more opportunities for employees to access tools and training to move into higher positions and experience upward mobility. Or consider an incremental approach to raising wages that doesn’t place business owners in the position of suddenly raising payroll costs by 60 percent. How about funding education so that the children of these low-wage workers can break the cycle of poverty? Or free birth control, so that people have the power to decide when they can afford to expand their families?

I grew up watching my parents and their fellow Vietnamese immigrants take on hard-labor jobs by day while attending night school. Family members often lived under the same roof to save money. I spent my teen years and early 20s working in my parents’ restaurant with plenty of other food-service workers. The whole experience reinforced a practical notion: Good employers like flexibility and having the autonomy to decide when they can reward solid workers with raises and promotions — and some workers need an incentive to motivate them to do their best work.

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