SEATTLE (AP) — Washington already has the nation’s highest state minimum wage at $9.19 an hour. Now there’s a push in Seattle, at least, to make it $15.
That would mean fast food workers, retail clerks, baristas and other minimum wage workers would get what protesters demanded when they shut down a handful of city restaurants in May and others called for when they demonstrated nationwide in July.
So far, the City Council and mayoral candidates have said they’d consider it in the famously liberal city. One said, however, that it may not be soon.
Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer said there’s no time to waste.
“A higher minimum wage is a very simple and elegant solution to the death spiral of falling demand that is the signature feature of our economy,” he said.
Some businesses advocates say a higher minimum wage will make it harder for companies in Seattle to survive. They cite Walmart, which has all but refused to accept a Washington, D.C., decision to raise the minimum wage to $12.50 an hour in big box stores.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says a higher minimum wage eliminates low-wage jobs because that’s how small businesses cut costs. The chamber says a wage hike would end up hurting the people it is supposed to benefit.
Fast food and retail workers, meanwhile, are calling for a nationwide strike on Aug. 29 to push for $15 an hour.
More than 15 million workers earn the national minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, making about $15,080 a year. That’s $430 below the 2013 federal poverty line for a family of two. San Francisco has the highest minimum wage for all workers at $10.50 an hour.
Economist Chris Benner of the University of California at Davis does not agree that a higher minimum wage would lead to job losses.
“There may be some job impact in those small businesses themselves,” he said. But in the entire economy, when you increase income to low-wage workers, it creates jobs because those workers are likely to spend their extra income and that increases demand for goods and services, he said.
Benner also doubts a higher minimum wage would affect prices enough to scare away consumers. He said his research has shown that even a large increase in wages, like the proposal in Seattle, has only a 4 to 5 percent effect on prices.
Pushing the wage hike forward before it can actually pass would kill it, he said.