The city council of Seattle approved an increase in hourly minimum wages set at $15 in a unanimous vote on Monday. Mayor Ed Murray is expected to sign the order on Tuesday. The city’s new hourly wage is above the federal minimum of $7.25 and the proposed $10.10 by Democrats. The first increases will take place April 1 next year.
The change will take place over the next few years, with many businesses having applied the new minimum wage by 2017. It is expected that all businesses in Seattle will set this law into place by 2021. This follows an almost six month long campaign by 15 Now, a group in Seattle which has been pushing for this hike.
Mayor Murray also promised to raise the city’s minimum wage before being elected last year. Businesses with over 500 employees nationwide will have three years to make the increase. Businesses that provide healthcare will have four years. San Francisco currently holds the highest hourly pay at $10.74, with the state of Wyoming having the lowest hourly pay at $5.15.
Seattle’s minimum wage being set at $15 is another progressive step made by the state of Washington after the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in November 2012. The law took effect on Dec. 1 last year.
Obama and other Democrats have been trying to push the proposed $10.10 federal minimum wage as law, but Republicans have been resistant as of late. The president previously proposed that $9 be the federal minimum, also to no effect. Earlier this year, federal contract workers were the first employees to see an increase in their wage minimums due by executive order.
A report complied by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that the current federal minimum wage is $2 below what it was in 1968. The federal minimum wage has not budged since 2009. The report also looked at the poor children living in areas of extreme poverty by their race or ethnicity. Extreme poverty was defined as having a rate of 30 percent or higher. The EPI found that between the years 2006 and 2010, 12 percent of children were white, 35 percent were Hispanic, 39 percent were Native American, 21 percent were Asian or Pacific Islanders, and 45 percent were black.
A minimum wage is expected to be enough to provide basic needs. With prices getting higher and with no change in this wage in the near future, more people could fall below the poverty line. Budget cuts in programs such as food stamps add to low-wage workers’ woes.
Another report from the EPI looked at how income inequality has changed in America from 1917 to 2011. The top 1 percent in all states and the District of Columbia saw an increase in the share of income between the years 1979 and 2007. Wyoming’s 1 percent had the highest share of all states at 22.3 percent. Louisiana had the lowest at 3.9 percent.
According to a report by the Congressional Budget Office released in February, 900,000 people could rise above the poverty line if the federal minimum is set at $10.10. Despite 500,000 possibly losing jobs after this proposed hike, millions of low-wage workers could see a welcomed boost in income.
Based in Seattle, 15 Now is currently collecting signatures to try to speed up the setting of the $15 minimum. Seattle proponents believe that leading by example could start a trend which might benefit millions, particularly working citizens who are living below the poverty line.
By Sibylla Chipaziwa