Higher wages let more people share in economic recovery

If you work a full-time job, you should get paid an honest wage. It’s a simple notion that every American can agree on.

Yet right now in Washington — a prosperous state in the wealthiest nation in the world — moms and dads are working full-time jobs but can’t support their families.

More than half of minimum-wage workers are over 20 years old, and more than a quarter are parents. Just 15 percent are teenagers. These are our neighbors, the caregivers of our children and our elderly parents. They work hard at important jobs — and they are just barely getting by.

That is why we have joined many of our colleagues in sponsoring legislation to raise the minimum wage.

The stock market has bounced back and is now at record high levels. The economy is on the right track, say the experts. Yet that recovery hasn’t reached working people and the middle class. For many hard-working Americans, there has been no recovery at all.

Ninety-five percent of the growth since the financial crisis has been captured by the wealthiest 1 percent of our nation. The vast majority of people in this country actually have less purchasing power than they did four years ago. The gains from higher productivity and a stronger economy have gone to Wall Street, not Main Street.

So when we see working families that are still being crushed under the burden of poverty, we see an economy that is still very much broken.

We can do better for the people of Washington. To build a strong economy and a strong middle class, the minimum wage must be a living wage.

The economics are simple: a higher minimum wage means fewer people dependent on government services and more customers for local businesses. When workers are able to earn a living wage for an honest day’s work, they don’t need to rely on the government to help them afford the most basic necessities like food, housing and health care. They also have more money in their pocket to spend, helping to stimulate the local economy.

But the real case for raising the minimum wage is a moral one: Here in Washington state, more than 240,000 workers make less than ten dollars an hour. A gradual increase up to twelve dollars would help lift more than half a million people out of poverty.

There are politicians and think tanks that claim that a higher minimum wage is bad for businesses. Some are actually pushing in the opposite direction, and saying we should cut the minimum wage or deny it to some Washingtonians.

But a quick look at the history of our state clearly debunks the myth that a higher minimum wage hurts jobs.

As John Burbank highlighted in an earlier opinion piece on the issue, when Washington increased its minimum wage in 1999, employment in restaurants and hospitality — the industries with the most low-wage workers — grew by 6,400 jobs. The same year, general employment in the state increased by 54,000. Another minimum-wage increase a year later saw a similar increase in jobs.

Even now, local industry giant Costco has found remarkable success in large part because they pay their workers far beyond the minimum wage. Ask leaders at the company and they will tell you: They save money because they have lower turnover. Their employees are loyal, motivated and productive.

And despite critics’ recent attempts to wield it as a weapon, that fact that 97 percent of Americans are earning more than the minimum wage is a clear indicator that businesses can afford the hike. If there is such room in the rafters of the economy, certainly we can afford to raise the floor for those who need it most.

There are numerous challenges to addressing poverty and inequality in Washington, but ensuring that everyone shares in the prosperity of our recovering economy is a critical first step. Anyone who works should be able to afford the most basic necessities — that is why we support raising the minimum wage.

Rep. Luis Moscoso (D-Mountlake Terrace) represents the 1st Legislative District: part of northeast King County and south Snohomish County, including areas of Kirkland, Bothell, Mountlake Terrace, and Brier. Rep. Moscoso vice chairs the House Transportation Committee. Rep. Mike Sells (D-Everett) represents the 38th Legislative District: parts of Snohomish County including Everett, Marysville and Tulalip. Rep. Sells chairs the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee.

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