1 in 4 Seattle workers could benefit from $15 wage

SEATTLE — Nearly 1 in 4 workers in Seattle could get a raise if the city adopts a $15 minimum wage.

Researchers at the University of Washington have determined that about 102,000 workers in Seattle make less than $15 an hour, The Seattle Times reported last week. That includes about 38,000 who make the state-mandated minimum wage of $9.32 an hour.

If workers who now make between $15 and $18 an hour also got a pay raise, then the change could affect nearly a third of Seattle’s workforce, or about 136,000 workers.

The University of Washington report is scheduled to be presented Wednesday to the Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee.

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs analyzed census data to give a sense of who would be affected by a $15 minimum wage.

They found Seattle’s low-wage workers on average are less educated and slightly younger than the overall population, but 60 percent have at least some college education. About a fifth are aged 45 and over, according to the report.

Women and minorities are disproportionately represented among workers earning minimum wage, but whites are a 58 percent majority, and women drop to a 49 percent minority among those paid between $12.13 and $15 an hour.

The UW researchers found that Seattle’s minimum-wage earners are twice as likely as workers overall to hold part-time jobs.

The report, requested and paid for by the city, offers a rare statistical look at who makes less than $15 an hour and where they work.

But a large portion of the report is based on data from 2007 — before the Great Recession.

Co-author Marieka Klawitter, a professor at the Evans School of Public Affairs, says that after 2007 the census stopped gathering crucial data on the exact number of hours worked in a week. As a result, 2007 is the most recent year for which data is available to estimate who in Seattle makes between $9.32 and $15 an hour, adjusted for inflation, she said.

She believes today’s low-wage workers resemble 2007’s low-wage workers, despite the recession.

“I think most of the general lessons are going to be the same,” she said. “The characteristics of people who earn the most or least don’t change quickly.”

By far, the industry most affected by a minimum-wage increase would be Seattle’s hotels and restaurants.

A quarter of Seattle residents who make minimum wage work in the accommodation and food-services industry, while 17 percent are in retail and 13 percent are in health care and social assistance, Klawitter said.

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Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com

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