Seattle Debates Raising Minimum Wage to $15 an Hour

Yesterday, hundreds of minimum-wage earning workers packed an assembly at Seattle Town Hall to encourage Mayor Ed Murray's Income Inequality Advisory Committee to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Washington's current minimum wage of $9.32 an hour is the highest in the country, but that doesn't mean it's enough to support a family, workers contend.

Seattle 

(Photo Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr)

The committee, formed of labor, business, and community leaders, has met three times so far this year, and plans to have a proposal for the City Council by the end of April. The City Council has also formed a committee to examine the issue of raising the minimum wage.

"We have a moment in Seattle where people are hungry to talk about income inequality and how it affects our city," said Sally Clark, chair of the City Council's committee, according to The Seattle Times.

The Labor Perspective

One attendee told the committee that he was an eight-year Burger King employee and veteran of the Navy who couldn't make ends meet without food stamps or donations from food banks. Last year, a report from economists at UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that over half of fast food workers in the United States were eligible for public aid.

A recent study from liberal think tank The Center for American Progress found that raising the minimum wage to President Obama and Sen. Tom Harkin's proposed $10.10 an hour would lift 4.6 million American workers out of poverty and save tax payers $4.6 billion a year on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps).

Working Washington cites data from The Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows raising wages from $9.32 an hour to $15 an hour would lead to increased spending per worker of 55 percent in restaurants, 79 percent in automobiles, and 26 percent in books.

Small Business Owners Fear Repercussions

Business leaders spoke of rising costs for business and consumers and resulting cuts in employee benefits.

"Raising prices would have to be our first response," Jasmine Donovan, granddaughter of the founder of Seattle-based Dick's Drive-In restaurants, told The Seattle Times. "Sadly, some of our benefits would have to be on the table, including 100 percent employer-paid health insurance for those working more than 24 hours a week."

Other business owners told the committee that they'd be open to a deal that includes employee benefits and tips in the calculation of the minimum wage.

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