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Jan. 22, 2014- Our View

Governor’s minimum wage proposal lacks understanding of state’s rural economies

Gov. Jay Inslee wants the Legislature to dramatically raise the minimum wage this year.

In his Jan. 14 “state of the state” speech to lawmakers in Olympia, he suggested the minimum wage jump from $9.32 per hour to at least $10.82, if not $11.82.

While that may be appropriate for those living in the Seattle-Tacoma area where rents are high, the governor’s recommendation shows an amazing lack of understanding of the rural economies powering most of the state. It also shows a lack of concern about the impact a hike of between 16 and 27 percent would have on small businesses.

Inslee says his idea is to give lower-income workers a shot at a living wage. In the same breath, he says his goal is to close the “widening economic gap.”

The last four years of minimum wage increases have certainly closed the pay gap – but not between the rich and the poor. The continued minimum wage hikes have closed the gap between entry-level workers and those employees striving to improve their lives. Generally speaking, the continued minimum wage hikes have left little extra in the coffers of small businesses that would like to reward hard-working employees.

As far as a living wage goes, Inslee has failed to realize this: Minimum wage increases are passed directly on to businesses’ customers, driving up prices and escalating inflation. We’ve already seen that effect here.

Since Jan. 1, 2010, the state’s minimum wage has jumped 77 cents per hour. For a full-time worker, that’s a jump of more than $1,600. Spread that over several full-time, entry-level employees and the minimum wage increase hits mom-and-pop shops pretty hard in the pocketbook.

To put the issue in perspective, the national minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. And while Oregon has almost kept pace with our state’s minimum wage, Idaho has mirrored the national pay rate.

The governor’s proposed one-size-fits-all minimum wage proposal won’t work in rural Washington.

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