OLYMPIA, Washington – A bill was introduced in Washington that will raise the state’s minimum wage up to $12 an hour over the next few years.
The minimum wage in Washington state is currently $9.32 per hour. However, House Bill 2672 will gradually increase the pay in 2015 and 2016 until it is finally at $12 by January 1, 2017.
Democratic Representative Jessyn Farrell introduced it despite Washington’s already having the highest minimum wage in the union. “The goal here is that people should be able to pay their rent, pay for child care, pay for food, without government assistance,” she said at a news conference.
With the intention to alleviate poverty throughout the state, the bill faces opposition by the Republican majority of the state Senate. According to the AP article, Republican Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry believes that the bill will discourage businesses from growing and encourage them to lay people off instead.
“If their intent is to help those in poverty, I think it’s a good intent, but I think this will do the exact opposite,” Newbry said.
Minimum wage has also been an issue on the national level and is occasionally covered by the media. Companies such as McDonald’s and Wal-Mart are criticized for paying their workers low wages. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that “low wages in the fast-food industry cost American taxpayers nearly $7 billion every year.” Reason being, people who get paid a lot less are more likely to rely on programs such as food stamps, which are funded by taxpayer dollars.
The case of Wal-Mart is not so different. According to a report by Demos, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C., Wal-Mart can actually afford to pay its workers more without posing a significant threat to its own profits.
“Wal-Mart doesn’t pay many of its employees enough to afford the necessities of life – food, health coverage, housing and transportation – effectively counting on taxpayers to make up the difference with food stamps, Medicaid, rental assistance and more,” the report states.
Moreover, the report states that when top companies such as Wal-Mart refuse to pay their workers higher wages, they ultimately undermine the economy and their own businesses. For example, even if government programs are being used, low-paid workers are still incapable of buying basic needs when it comes to shopping at Walmart themselves. Therefore, businesses also pay the price when they struggle to sell basic necessities to people living in poverty.
Other countries have adopted higher minimum wages and are considered top democracies and economies, according to Freedom House and The Fund for Peace.
If raising the minimum wage is not an option, America should follow the example of Scandinavian countries such as Norway and Finland. The workers in these nations depend on unions and collective bargaining with their employers to negotiate their salaries.
In the meantime, Washington state appears to be heading towards the right direction when it comes to reducing poverty at home. With a widening inequality gap among Americans, companies based in the United States would have nothing to lose due to their large profits.
– Juan Campos