The 1998 Minimum Wage Initiative in Washington State: A Case Study

For a PDF of this report, click here.

The Economic Opportunity Institute (EOI) is a pragmatic, progressive public policy institute. We are focused on developing new public policies in Washington State to create ladders for low-income people to move into the middle class and to plug holes so that middle class families do not fall into poverty. In 1998, one of our major issues was increasing the minimum wage. Two-thirds of the electorate supported this initiative, making the minimum wage the most popular ballot issue in 1998.  Indeed, the minimum wage initiative was the only initiative to win in every single county in our state.

At EOI, we strive to engage the citizenry in a discussion of economic security issues and to broadcast our public policy proposals to, in particular, two groupings in the electorate: swing, independent voters, and disengaged low income people. We want to put together compelling messages and public policies about economic security issues that resonate with both these groups and address shared economic security concerns. We want to make sure our messages resonate in rural areas, the suburbs and the cities, and up and down the income ladder. So we look for public policy which 1) is incremental in nature but move toward universal benefits or has positive economic ramifications across income, race, and gender, and 2) can be embraced by a popular majority of the electorate. The minimum wage issue met both of these objectives.

Thanks to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), we were able to aggressively define the policy debate about the minimum wage initiative. EPI asked one of their economists, John Schmitt, to join us in a statewide media tour about the minimum wage. John worked with us in shaping our message and adding policy and intellectual legitimacy to our work. This media tour was one part of our overall media strategy, which resulted in 66 contacts with reporters, over 20 news stories about the minimum wage, seven radio interviews, meetings with 6 editorial boards, and lead op-ed pieces in the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, Bellingham Herald, and the Yakima Herald-Republic. Some of the news stories we generated are posted on our web site.

The minimum wage issue sparked an interest in the media about EOI and our overall policy strategy and policy issues. We have since developed the policy parameters for the early childhood education career development and wage ladder pilot project. We have collaborated in the design, implementation, and evaluation of Community Jobs, a waged-work welfare-to-work initiative. We have developed a comprehensive state-based policy discussion and defense of Social Security. We are now pursuing policy for family leave insurance, universal pension access, a low–income job advancement system, and expansion of the state’s Basic Health Plan.

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