Campaign seeks to push Seattle minimum wage to $15

SEATTLE — Washington already has the nation’s highest state minimum wage at $9.19 an hour. Now, there’s a push in Seattle, at least, to make it $15.

That would mean fast food workers, retail clerks, baristas and other minimum wage workers would get what protesters demanded when they shut down a handful of city restaurants in May and others called for when they demonstrated nationwide in July.

So far, the City Council and mayoral candidates have said they would consider it in the famously liberal city. One said, however, that it may not be soon.

Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer said there’s no time to waste. What the nation needs is money in the hands of regular consumers. “A higher minimum wage is a very simple and elegant solution to the death spiral of falling demand that is the signature feature of our economy,” he said.

Some businesses advocates say a higher minimum wage will make it harder for companies in Seattle to survive. They cite Wal-Mart, which has all but refused to accept a Washington, D.C., decision to raise the minimum wage to $12.50 an hour in big box stores.

A higher minimum wage eliminates low wage jobs because that’s how small businesses cut costs and that ends up hurting the people it was supposed to benefit, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Fast food and retail workers, meanwhile, are calling for a nationwide strike on Aug. 29 to push for $15 an hour.

More than 15 million workers earn the national minimum wage, making about $15,080 a year — $50 below the federal poverty line for a family of two. San Francisco currently has the highest minimum wage for all workers at $10.50 an hour.

Economist Chris Benner of the University of California at Davis does not agree that a higher minimum wage would lead to job losses.

“There may be some job impact in those small businesses themselves,” he said. But in the entire economy, when you increase income to low-wage workers, it creates jobs because those workers are likely to spend their additional income and that increases demand for goods and services.

Benner also doubts a higher minimum wage would affect prices enough to scare away consumers. His research has shown that even a large increase in wages, like the proposal in Seattle, has only a 4 to 5 percent effect on prices.

One of those affected by a potential wage increase is Caroline Durocher, 21, who has been working low-wage jobs since high school. She has been working at a Seattle Subway restaurant for about a month, since she was fired by another chain shortly after participating in the minimum wage strike.

“I have co-workers who are single moms. I honestly don’t know how they make it,” said Durocher, who sleeps on her father’s couch.

City Council member Nick Licata doesn’t expect the issue to get any official traction soon. One of the council’s most liberal members, he said there are other issues the council should tackle to help low-wage workers, including wage theft and affordable housing.

Pushing it forward before it can actually pass would kill he idea, he said.

One Seattle City council candidate has made the topic the centerpiece of her campaign.

Economist Kshama Sawant is basing her campaign on similar efforts in New York City and Washington, D.C. While saying her chances of getting elected are not great, she is pushing the rise in the minimum wage and said she is hearing about it on the campaign trail.

An alternative, yet politically mighty, weekly newspaper, the Stranger, has endorsed her idea.

“We’re getting a huge echo for the idea,” she said.

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