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The Lowest Wage Earners of 2013

Minimum WagesAlmost one million low-wage workers will receive modest raises this year. Ten states across the U.S. have raised the minimum wage, including Rhode Island, the most recent to address these low income workers with a minimum wage boost of 35 cents an hour (bringing the hourly rate to $7.75). This works out to an extra $510 a year for 11,000 Rhode Island residents. In 9 other states, including right here in Washington, laws that link the minimum wage to inflation will give workers an increases of 10 to 15 cents an hour. Washington’s minimum wage rate remains the highest in the nation at $9.19 an hour.

Yet in contrast to these gains, the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. Twenty states set their minimums above that level, giving the lowest-paid workers a much needed (even if modest) boost. But these state-by-state efforts are not an adequate substitute for higher federal levels, because the opportunity to earn a minimally adequate income in America should not be contingent on where a worker lives.

Will 2013 be the year when Congress votes to raise the federal minimum wage? That would be the very least that our elected official could do. In last week’s fiscal cliff deal, politicians secured large tax breaks for rich investors and inheritors of multimillion-dollar estates. Yet at the same time, they let the payroll tax cut for low- and middle-income taxpayers expire, without implementing any provisions to soften the blow. The lowest-paid workers will suffer the most. In states that raised the minimum wage for 2013, most of the increase will be cancelled out by the steeper payroll tax. In many other states, small paychecks will now be even smaller.

Wage Dispute

Arguments for raising the minimum wage tend to clash with claims that employers (particularly small businesses), do not have the means to increase their labor costs. Yet evidence reveals that the majority of low-wage workers are employed by large corporations, which by and large have recovered from the recession and reinstated large pay increases and bonuses for their executives. Meanwhile, many of the low-wage workers at small businesses are servers or others workers who rely heavily on tips for their income; for this group, the federal minimum wage is $2.13 an hour, which is where it’s remained since 1991. Certainly this gives us plenty of room for an increase.

Another argument of opponents of a higher minimum wage is that increases destroy jobs, particularly for teenagers. Yet here, research indicates that the vast majority of low-wage workers are over 20 year of age, and paying them a higher wage could actually generate new jobs by boosting consumer spending.

Finally, a more robust minimum wage is a surefire way to counteract the growing trend toward low-income work, poverty, and increasing income inequality in the United States. Since the 1970s, factors like the decline in unionization and globalization have deflated American wages. Yet the situation has grown more critical the past few years, as most of the mid-income jobs wiped out by the recession were replaced with lower-paid work.

Washington Employment Attorneys

The fight for a higher minimum wage will doubtlessly continue. Congress has approved an increase only three times in the past 30 years.  Back in 2008, President Obama pledged to take on this issue, calling for a $9.50 an hour federal minimum wage, indexed to inflation. It is high time to make that promise a reality for American workers.

The employment attorneys at Emery Reddy are committed advocates of Washington workers. If you have experienced an unlawful employment practice such as workplace discrimination, failure to provide L&I benefits for a workplace injury or on the job accident, unpaid wages, or other issue involving FMLA or ADA, we will defend your rights and help you receive the full compensation you deserve under Washington law. Contact a lawyer at our firm today.

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