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Topic: minimum wage
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January 7, 2014 at 6:00 AM
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray chose to make a $15 minimum wage for city employees the topic of his first official press conference last Friday, but he also reiterated that increasing wages alone won’t fix the city’s affordability problem.
Murray said education and housing are two other issues that must be dealt with if Seattle is to remain a place where people from diverse backgrounds and income levels can work and live.
He’s right. For now, let’s single out the housing part.
In case you missed it, The Seattle Times editorial pages featured a special section on affordable housing last month. Read those op-eds here. In November, our board called on city leaders to develop a coherent strategy to fix the housing shortage.
Since then, Seattle Times reporter Sanjay Bhatt reports rent increases may be stabilizing, but not by much. And most of the housing stock that’s available is out of reach for low and middle-wage workers. Remember, affordable housing generally means the cost of utilities and shelter should not exceed 30 percent of household income.
Here’s a link to the city’s wait list for subsidized housing, which is perennially long and can last years. Many lower-middle class workers don’t quality for assistance. Thousands more remain homeless, including hundreds of families with children.
If we know the city of Seattle needs more shelter and housing, how do we pay for it? New and existing developments rely heavily on federal funds, the Seattle Housing Levy (which is up for renewal in 2016) and the state’s Housing Trust Fund. The new mayor and City Council’s challenge is to develop policies that will stretch those limited dollars further. (more…)
December 6, 2013 at 2:02 PM
What is the likely effect of the rise in the minimum wage in SeaTac to $15, or some other increase? I was cleaning out my paper files preparatory to retirement, and under “Minimum Wage” was a study dated January 1991 from the University of Washington’s Northwest Policy Center. The principal investigator was James McIntire, who is now Washington state treasurer, the official responsible for floating state bond issues on Wall Street.
The study’s aim was to judge the effect of a 1968 state ballot measure that increased Washington’s minimum wage in two steps to $4.25 ($7.59 in today’s money) by January 1990. The effective minimum in Washington for most workers had been the federal minimum of $3.35.
This was a 27 percent increase over two years, which was fairly big, but less than half the 63 percent increase between the 2013 state minimum of $9.19 and the 2014 SeaTac minimum of $15.
November 18, 2013 at 12:36 PM
Anti-poverty efforts must move away from a singular focus on inner-cities and go where poverty is growing fastest: the suburbs. People with limited economic means are stereotyped as living in inner-cities, but America’s poor more often than not live and struggle in suburban communities far from the things they need most, including public transportation, health care and jobs.
These points rest atop rigorous research and public policy advocacy by Alan Berube, a senior fellow and deputy director at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program. He is co-author of Confronting Suburban Poverty in America (Brookings Press, 2013). Berube was in Seattle early Monday to talk about the poverty’s shift beyond urban centers. There are now four times as many people living in poverty in the suburbs compared to a decade ago. Indeed, there are more poor people in suburbs now than in cities. Part of the story is the migration of low-wage jobs, chiefly in hospitality and fast-food restaurants, as well as limited affordable housing in cities like Seattle.
Berube’s talk was sponsored by the Equity kNOW project, a smart partnership between King County and Futurewise to promote more understanding of poverty and general agreement on solutions. I’m encouraged by all of this. King County has the capacity to offer forward-looking mapping and analysis of changing demographics countywide. Anti-poverty efforts need this type of regional leadership, Berube notes. He also credits smart regional cooperatives around the country, giving a nod here to the Road Map Project, a nonprofit organizing South King County communities around improving public education.
Poverty will always exist, just as there will always be unemployment. Efforts to raise incomes should be joined by efforts to ensure everyone, regardless of income, lives in communities helping them not simply survive, but thrive. That means close residential proximity to healthy and fresh foods, public parks, quality schools and reliable bus service. There is a large correlation between people who do not have access to these things and their race, ethnicity and income.
Consider the following in King County:
- The number of people of color has quadrupled over the last 30 years.
- People of color account for more than half of young people under the age of 18.
- Tukwila, Renton and SeaTac are majority minority cities.
- Three ZIP codes – Skyway, SeaTac-Tukwila and Seattle’s Rainier Valley – are the most racially and ethnically diverse in the nation.
The YouTube video by the Brookings Institution below offers a vivid snapshot of poverty’s changing face nationwide.
November 14, 2013 at 6:14 AM
Civil Disagreement is an occasional feature of the Seattle Times editorial board. Here Bruce Ramsey and Lynne K. Varner offer different takes on a proposal in Switzerland for a guaranteed minimum income.
Apologies in advance if this gives you indigestion, but I just read that Switzerland is thinking about offering a monthly allowance to every citizen. No strings attached.
Americans will immediately think of Social Security, but Swiss citizens of all ages, not simply the elderly, would receive a check from the government. Others might think of public assistance, but Switzerland is not trying to help the poor here. There would be no means-testing. If advocates of the proposal gather enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot, and if it passes, every Swiss citizen could count on a check.
Bruce, I’m intrigued by the plan’s author, German-born artist Enno Schmidt, and his invitation to consider what kinds of lives we would all lead if we could count on a small, but consistent, monthly stipend. Schmidt is part of the basic-income movement getting notice in many parts of Europe and among socialist political circles. It has its roots in income-inequality debates but unlike the minimum-wage battle here in the U.S., basic-income proposals do not rely on recipients participating in the workforce. So it’s not about improving incomes by raising working wages, but rather achieving the same means with a monthly check from the government for as long as you live.
This New York Times story compares conversations surrounding the idea to talk in the U.S. about Robin Hood taxes and single-payer health care. The article notes that “certain wonks on the libertarian right and liberal left,” are coming together around the idea, although they differ on whether the money should be an unconditional stipend or a means-tested minimum income to supplement the earnings of the working poor.
And from the same Times story, Charles Murray, darling of the conservative right wrote in his books, “In Our Hands: A plan to Replace the Welfare State,” guaranteeing $10,000 a year to all Americans over 21 and who stayed out of jail.” Let me take a moment to fantasize about what I would do with my check.
In the end Bruce, this is not an idea for America. But Switzerland is a smaller country with one of the most stable economies in the world. The Swiss are a socially conscious lot. Guaranteeing every citizen the ability to feed and shelter themselves without the stigma attached to welfare may work for them. What do you think, and more importantly how’s your digestion?
My digestion is fine but my dander is certainly up. The Swiss are a levelheaded people, and I hope they vote this idea down.
Life requires work. The government should not give able-bodied and able-minded citizens an idleness option in the prime of life. It’s bad for them. It’s bad for the people around them, especially their kids.
The chief promoter of this bad idea argues that the receipt of free money will “unleash creativity and entrepreneurialism.” And guess what? Enno Schmidt’s an artist, which is one of the few occupations on earth that millions of people will pursue even if not paid. Put on a stipend, many an artist would go on making art. (Indeed, there was a sculptor in Norway who had a deal like that with the local authorities, and Oslo has a park full of his work.) But, put on a stipend, would a watchmaker go on making watches? Would a waitress go on serving table? Would your garbageman go on picking up trash?
On this matter, we’re expected to trust the social imagination of an artist?
Or a libertarian, namely Charles Murray. In his book “In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State” (2006) he proposed a grant of $10,000 a year to every American over 21 and not in jail–but provided that we give up all other benefit programs. But it wouldn’t be done that way. And he knew that. And the author of “Losing Ground” (1984), the famous indictment of the welfare state, should have known better than to make a such a proposal.
Paying people not to work results in less work done. I trust myself here. I’m about to retire. If I didn’t have sources of money, I wouldn’t do it. I’d keep working. I can stop working now, in my 60s, because the system under which I’ve worked, and the decisions I’ve made under that system, give me an option of idleness. That I have this option after almost 40 years of work is one thing. But should the young have it?
And if we’re talking about a payment too small to live on, but big enough for a fling—what would be the social purpose of that? Imagine something like Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend, which this year pays $900 to qualifying residents. Suppose every adult American had it, adding $200 billion to the deficit every year. Would that be a wise expenditure?
It might, as you say, provide everyone an income “without the stigma attached to welfare.” But the stigma is good. It is a sign of cultural health. We shouldn’t want to end it.
November 8, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Mayor-Elect Ed Murray has promises to keep. This Seattle Times news story suggests the powerful Service Employees International Union Healthcare 775 NW, which endorsed Murray over Mike McGinn, won’t let their man forget a SeaTac Prop 1-like citizen initiative could come to Seattle if leaders don’t take legislative action to increase the minimum wage to $15. The groundswell movement around socialist firebrand Kshama Sawant adds another voice to the debate over income inequality. (ICYMI: Read my colleague Bruce Ramsey’s column on the Sawant effect on Seattle liberal politics.)
But what about the rest of Seattle’s less-vocal voters? Between Oct. 14 and 16, consulting firm Strategies 360 released a survey based on 400 interviews among likely voters in Seattle.
The results indicate minimum wage as a standalone issue is not at the top of peoples’ agendas. Seattleites care more about the economy, jobs, education, public safety and road infrastructure. Here’s the chart:
View the complete survey on Strategies 360′s web site. With a 4.9 percent margin of error, the results also showed 48 percent of respondents think Seattle is heading in the right direction. Perceptions of the local economy are 73 percent positive — with 64 percent saying it’s in “good shape.”
Of course, none of those rosy numbers equaled votes for Mayor Mike McGinn. Voters found him to be a “more divisive figure” than Murray.
Here’s another telling visual: (more…)
November 1, 2013 at 11:38 AM
A war is being waged in SeaTac over the minimum wage. Voters will decide Tuesday whether to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for some airport and hospitality workers with Proposition 1. Organizers then plan to bring the campaign to Seattle, where both mayoral candidates have already expressed support.
Supporters say it would help low-income people and families achieve a better life. That’s a bit simplistic. Poor people are not a monolithic group. I argued in a Wednesday blog post that it would devastate immigrant-owned businesses. (Our editorial board has also recommended a no vote in an editorial.)
James Shin is one of those immigrants. Shin, 64, owns the Quality Inn SeaTac. In 2011, he used his life savings to buy the 104-room hotel, and he would be required to pay his workers $15 an hour if Proposition 1 passes. It would, in fact, be a crippling financial blow to Shin.
He’s not the chief executive of a hotel chain. He owns one hotel. And he used to be poor.
Shin, a U.S. citizen, immigrated here from South Korea in 1975. He had a bachelor’s degree from a Korean university, but he spoke little English. His first job in the U.S.? Dishwasher. He made $2.25 an hour. In his next job he was a janitor. “When I moved to the U.S. I worked hard. Some people didn’t want to work weekends. I worked on weekends for overtime,” he said. (more…)
October 30, 2013 at 12:01 PM
Raising the minimum wage to this level would be devastating to immigrant-owned small businesses.
On Nov. 5, SeaTac will consider whether to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for some airport and hospitality workers with Proposition 1. Efforts are under way to raise the same issue in Seattle. Mayor Mike McGinn, who is running for re-election, has already made it an issue in a zoning permit spat with Whole Foods in Seattle. In fact, he would like to raise it even higher in Seattle. His challenger, state Sen. Ed Murray, has also indicated support for the $15 level. (Read both sides of the debate in Tuesday’s Pro/Con on Prop. 1. Our editorial board recommends a no vote on Proposition 1 in an editorial.)
And while the current ballot issue only affects SeaTac, the next stop for the minimum-wage campaign is Seattle.
Supporters of the $15 campaign say it would help low-income people and families working in these jobs. That presumes poor people are a monolithic group, all of whom want to work those jobs for the rest of their lives. (more…)
October 8, 2013 at 9:06 AM
Thoughtful responses have piled up in my email inbox since my column about Proposition 1 which, if approved by City of SeaTac voters, would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for about 6,300 workers at Sea-Tac airport and nearby hotels, car-rental agencies and parking lots.
I disagree with the Nov. 5 ballot measure. There’s not much point in raising the minimum wage for thousands when the issues are wage depression for millions of workers and a yawning gap between the skills workers possess and the ones they need to have a shot at a good paying job. Going city by city – SeaTac today, Puyallup tomorrow - will result in a nationwide shift in the minimum wage by, oh, 2070.
Dean Shoemaker from Kent said: “Of course, not many have the talent and determination of a Subelbia. All I would ask is that the minimum wage stay up with inflation. Choose any decade in the last half century, any you want and track inflation and the minimum wage down to the present. Minimum wage has fallen behind which suggests that working folks have suffered a decline in their standard of living.” (more…)
October 4, 2013 at 6:15 AM
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?
September 23, 2013 at 7:18 AM
Thousands of readers took interest in my blog post last Monday highlighting the principles behind Seattle’s beloved Dick’s Drive-In chain, known for paying employees at least $10 an hour and offering benefits. Jim Spady, the company’s vice president and legal counsel, still adheres to his father Dick Spady’s core business philosophy: make a profit first, then take care of your employees and community.
Spady’s views resonated with folks who are thinking about the local and national debate about whether to raise the minimum wage from $9.19 to $15 per hour. Check out some of the most thoughtful viewpoints from readers to my blog post below.
A proposition to raise the minimum for airport-related employees is on the ballot in SeaTac. Fast-food workers in Seattle have attempted strikes demanding the same. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn opposes a land-use permit for a Whole Foods development in West Seattle over the grocer’s wages.
First, here’s an informal poll:
Now, time for some of your edited comments. (more…)