Washington state's minimum wage of $8.55 an hour -- the highest minimum wage in the nation -- isn't likely to increase for the second year in a row.
The voter-approved measure ties the increase to the federal Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (think Seattle). That figure is generally higher than the overall rate of inflation, which explains why Washington's minimum wage tops the nation.
Last year that index fell for the first time. The result was a minimum-wage freeze for 2010.
The urban CPI is up a tad this year, but it isn't high enough to reach the threshold established by the ballot measure to trigger an increase.
The state Department of Labor and Industries asked Attorney General Rob McKenna if the state would be able to increase the minimum wage in 2011 if inflation increases, but does not go above the level the current rate is based upon, The Associated Press reported. In an opinion issued last week, McKenna wisely said no.
The fact is that a great many workers in Washington, in the private sector and in government, have seen their wages frozen the past two years. Boosting the minimum wage at this time could slow the economic recovery in the state.
But in Oregon, despite the small rate of inflation, state officials have opted to boost the minimum wage in January to $8.50. State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian said the dime boost was critical to helping the Oregon economy recover and prevent the lowest wage earners from falling behind inflation.
We don't see it that way. If employers were forced to pay even a small amount more for wages, some might opt to eliminate positions. Higher wages force the costs of goods and services to go up so employers can pay the higher wages. And when businesses simply can't charge any more for their products or services, they are forced to reduce the work force or close the doors.
A single dime isn't much money but when it comes to wages there is a cumulative effect. It will add thousands for many individual businesses.
Yes, those who still have a job might be happy to make an extra 10 cents an hour -- about $200 a year -- but those who find themselves out of job are devastated. That job, even at $8.40 an hour job, looks good.
The minimum wage should be a starting wage, not the minimum salary one person needs to support a family.
A minimum wage was established as a protection for workers, as a safety net. The idea was to establish a fair standard of compensation to ensure workers in entry-level positions are not exploited.
Washington's minimum wage, already the nation's highest, now serves to protect workers from exploitation. Freezing the minimum wage for a second straight year improves the state's chance of economic recovery.