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The $15 Debate

This is a big deal. Seattle City Council just approved a gradual increase of the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour. Seattle is indeed the bellwether when it comes to the national debate over the minimum wage.

This debate is an interesting one for me personally because if you were to ask me before, if the minimum wage should be increased, I would not have to think about it. Yes! Of course! Seattle already has one of the highest minimum wages in the country but also a high cost of living and the people who work minimum wage jobs still struggle to afford basic necessities. Especially if they have a family to support.

This article from March discusses the results of a UW study that looked at how a $15 minimum wage increase would affect Seattle’s population. Overall, it’s pretty clear that the increase will help at least a quarter of Seattle’s working population. It’s also clear that the hospitality and restaurant industries will be most affected.

As with any debate, there are two sides. $15NOW is on the extreme side in favor of the increase. They wanted it across-the-board and they wanted it immediately. Nick Hanauer, a multimillionaire and staunch supporter of the $15 minimum wage, was on Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s advisory committee and he gives some great insight in this Politico piece into why this minimum wage increase is important, for individuals and for the economy. Based on this article, I think the Mayor’s group did a good job working together to make a plan.

On the other side of the coin are those who think that raising the minimum wage will kill small businesses and make everything more expensive for the consumer. This Forbes article states that it will actually hurt low wage workers because businesses will have to reduce their staff in order to afford the new wage. There are even some minimum wage earners who are against raising the minimum wage. In this letter, Tom Douglas gives a very clear indication of how an across-the-board minimum wage increase could affect the restaurant industry. And he does a good job convincing me that a very studied and careful approach is needed.

A lot of the debate is focused on the restaurant industry and tipped employees. And they almost convinced me that this large of an increase is not a good idea. However, we can talk about the tipped workers and the cost increase to consumers as much as we want, but I think that’s missing the point. While it’s true that some tipped professionals do really well and are fortunate to work for restaurants like the ones Tom Douglas owns, others are not so lucky. They work a food service job where tips are hard to come by. Or they clean hotels, or work in hospitals, or nursing homes. It’s for those workers that this increase is important. We still live in an expensive city with an incredibly high cost of living. If a $15 minimum wage can alleviate some struggle. I’m all for it.

What about you? How do you feel about the $15 minimum wage ordinance? Will it have a positive or negative impact on your life?

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