On the second day of the legislative session, during the State of the State speech, Gov. Jay Inslee introduced his proposal to increase the state’s minimum wage. I was surprised by the proposal. After all, Washington state is still experiencing 6.6 percent unemployment, the 29th highest in the country. Meanwhile, our minimum wage is $9.32 per hour and is currently the highest in the nation.
It was approved by a statewide vote in 2000 and is indexed to inflation and other cost factors. Our state’s minimum wage continues to grow and it will likely continue to outpace the minimum wage in other states.
Soon after the governor’s speech, Democrats introduced House Bill 2672 to increase the minimum wage by almost $3, to $12 an hour. While the increase is proposed under the premise of income equality and helping working-class people, the consequences of these proposals could actually do just the opposite. For an area of the state like ours that depends upon small businesses already operating under a very thin margin, proposals to increase our minimum wage are cause for concern.
Interestingly, states like North Dakota, Nebraska and South Dakota all have a minimum wage tied to the federal rate of $7.25 an hour. These states happen to have among the lowest unemployment rates in the country.
Perhaps this is because employers in those states can afford to hire more people at the lower wage. A lower minimum wage also helps young workers gain experience in the job market with entry-level employment. Getting the younger generation working is good for them and for our economy, especially our local economy with many service and tourism-related businesses.
For me, this whole debate comes down to a fundamental question: Would we rather have fewer people working who are paid a bit more or more people working who are paid a little less?
I would prefer more people working who contribute to our economy over increased wages for those already working. Let’s get more people working first and then as our economy grows, allow employers the opportunity to grow their wages. That’s part of the American dream.
This latest proposal would create fewer opportunities, and make people believe the best they can achieve is the minimum.
Rep. Brad Hawkins serves the 12th Legislative District, which includes Chelan, Douglas and parts of Okanogan and Grant counties. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.