New minimum wage arrives

"The minimum wage increase came and went with little fanfare this month, dwarfed by Y2K hysteria and the new century.Nonetheless, 1998 Initiative 688 kicked in on Jan. 1, bumping Washington's minimum wage from $5.70 an hour to $6.50. This is good news for the many parents and adults scraping by on the lower end of the payscale (higher only than workers with special exemptions, like agricultural workers) said Bob Swanson, executive director of the Washington State Association of Community Action Agencies.Despite the appearance around Silverdale that most minimum wage workers are teenagers, Swanson said the majority are adults.Certainly teenagers get those jobs, but at least 72 percent of minimum wage earners were over 21 in 1998.By the same token, there are many adult workers out there who are flipping burgers and working two jobs just to make ends meet. They need to have dignity and respect and know that they are valuable and worthwhile. By not paying a liveable wage ... I can't understand why people would want to keep other people in poverty as an employer.The $6.50 an hour will gross a full-time employee $1,040 a month, or $13,520 annually. Often, those wages are supplemented by tax credits to boost income for the working poor a little more.If you are talking about raising a family, a liveable wage in Washington state is more like $10 or $11 an hour, Swanson said. Why the initiative was so successful is that people believe that people who are working and working full time should not be making a wage that keeps them in poverty.It also appears that concerns voiced by employers during the election - specifically, that they would have to employ fewer because of the labor cost increase - have proven unfounded. Kitsap Mall Manager Dan Engelhard said he has heard from very few businesses disturbed by the wage increase. I don't know how much noise we are going to hear about this, Engelhard said. Certainly, costs are going to go up and profit margins are going to go down. But I think our employers just stepped up to the plate and absorbed those costs. Have we heard of anyone having to fire anyone over this? No, I don't think so.In fact, Engelhard said the mall merchants have bigger fish to fry than an 80 cent minimum wage increase.Real estate taxes, for instance, is a bigger issues. The others can be absorbed incrementally, he said.Most of our department stores pay higher than a minimum wage, anyway, Engelhard added. They understand that they will have to in order to attain and retain employees. You're going to have to pay more to keep people from bouncing from one minimum wage job to the next.This is the second time in two years I-688 increased the minimum wage, bumping it first on Jan. 1, 1998, from $4.90 an hour to $5.70. From this point, it does not designate a numeric wage increase, but rather ties the minimum wage to inflation. From this year on, the state minimum wage will rise proportionally to the consumer price index.The increase brings Washington to the same minimum pay level as Oregon, the two states tying for first in the country for highest minimum pay.In contrast, Wyoming has the lowest minimum pay at $1.60 an hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.Regardless, Swanson said the $6.50 minimum wage is only a small victory.The reality is that $6.50 an hour is still not what people would consider a liveable wage - it would not be a good salary, Swanson said. But at least it's better than $5.70 or $4.90."

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