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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

February 18, 2014 at 5:53 PM

Murray, DelBene unfazed by predicted job losses from minimum-wage boost

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Suzan DelBene were unfazed by a new Congressional Budget Office report predicting job losses if the federal minimum wage is raised to $10.10 an hour.

The nonpartisan CBO estimated Tuesday the boost in the minimum wage would raise the wages of 16.5 million workers and lift 900,000 out of poverty. But that would come with a price – causing the loss of an estimated 500,000 low-wage jobs. (The CBO gave a wide range for the possible job losses, from “a very slight decrease” to 1 million.)

Murray and DelBene were asked about the CBO report during a news conference Tuesday at a Capitol Hill ice cream shop where the Democrats stumped for the minimum-wage increase with a group of sympathetic workers and business owners.

Both Democrats said they’re confident a boost in the minimum wage – which currently leaves full-time workers well below the federal poverty level – will have a positive impact.

Murray noted the low end of the CBO estimate suggests the job losses may not be so high, and said there are “many, many economic studies across the country that show raising the minimum wage boosts the economy.”

Her spokesman, Sean Coit, later pointed to examples being circulated by Democrats, including a 2010 study by Berkeley economists which found minimum wage increases have had “little or no negative impact on employment of minimum-wage workers.”

DelBene, D-Medina, said Washington state’s economy has remained comparatively strong despite having the highest minimum wage in the country. “I think we’re a good piece of data to address that question,” she said.

Tom Campion, the founder and chairman of Zumiez, the teen-clothing chain, agreed on that point. Zumiez, which Campion founded 36 years ago, now has 500 stores across the country. He said his stores in Washington and Oregon, states with high minimum wages, are profitable just like his stores low-wage states like Texas.

“This is an easy call for me and it is an easy call for my company,” Campion said. “The important thing is as a country we all jump together on this” so that no businesses are left at a competitive disadvantage, he added.

Martina Phelps, a 22-year-old McDonald’s employee from Skyway, said a raise would help her be able to afford to go back to school to study cosmetic chemistry. She got a community college degree but has been unable to save money to return to school. Phelps said she can’t afford a car, either, leaving her with a four-hour bus commute each day. “I hope that when our government makes a decision about raising the minimum wage, they think about prosperity and people with stories like me,” she said.

While Democrats are pushing a raise in the federal minimum wage as a political cudgel against Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections, in Seattle the debate is over raising the wage to $15 an hour. On that point, Molly Moon Neitzel, the owner of six Molly Moon’s ice cream stores, said she and other business owners have some worries the city may move too fast.

Moon Neitzel said she recently raised the wages of her non-tipped “back of the store” employees to $15 an hour. But the workers who serve ice cream in the front of the stores start at minimum wage (they get raises in six months) plus tips, which can average $10 an hour.

Moon Neitzel said she supports the higher minimum wage in general, but is worried the Seattle effort might hurt small businesses like hers.

But as for corporate chains – no problem. “McDonald’s could do it tomorrow,” she said.

Comments | More in 2014 elections, Congressional races | Topics: minimum wage, Rep. Suzan DelBene, Sen. Patty Murray


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