Good news for Washington’s workers and economy: Minimum wage to see cost-of-living increase for 2011

A small ray of light broke through Washington’s cloudy economic picture on Friday, with the announcement that the state’s minimum wage will see a 12-cent cost-of-living increase in 2011, per the state’s 1998 voter-approved initiative.

A coalition of local community, youth, labor and other grassroots groups helped make the case for the scheduled increase, in spite of efforts by Washington’s attorney general and the Association of Washington Business – one of the state’s major business lobbies – to stop it. The AWB, which once said it was no longer fighting regular increases in Washington’s minimum wage, had a very different response to Friday’s news, according to the Seattle Times.

Grant Nelson, AWB government-affairs director, said the decision “will make it more difficult to do business” and that the group was weighing legislative and other options in response. Claims that a minimum wage hike will be economically damaging are stock in trade for groups like the AWB and the Washington Restaurant Association, though Washington’s experience and those of other states across the country have largely debunked such theories.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs are likely to be affected by the wage increase. The most recent update from the state Employment Security Department (ESD) indicates that in the second quarter of 2009, the overall num ber of minimum wage jobs was at an all-time high of almost 67,000, exceeding the record set in 2000. Since workers within about $1.00 of minimum wage also experience raises when the minimum goes up, the Governor’s decision will directly affect far more than the apparent number.

Putting a few extra cents in workers’ pockets will not only help them get by, but also help boost local businesses, because low-wage workers are particularly likely to spend most of their income on day-to-day necessities. But even with the highest minimum wage in the nation, full-time minimum wage workers in Washington state earn far less than what families need for a basic budget.

A two-parent, two-child household working full-time (2080 hours) at minimum wage would earn $35,568 per year. In Seattle, annual expenses for the same family are approximately $49,835; in Spokane/Spokane County, $41,738; in Chelan County, $39,795.

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