$13.50 minimum wage would boost economy

Tacoma City Council member Ryan Mello.
Tacoma City Council member Ryan Mello.

The News Tribune’s Editorial Board was spot-on with one part of its opinion on Initiative 1433.

The board rightly pointed out that claiming the minimum wage is an entry-level wage for teenagers is an outdated, “sepia-toned stereotype.” In fact, 88 percent of minimum wage workers are 20 and older, and the average age is 35. The new reality is that many are parents working hard to support a family.

Unfortunately, the TNT opinion went about 750 words too far. It discouraged voters against giving working families a raise because the board believes that $12 an hour, like what Tacoma passed last year, is a better approach.

But as a City Council member who supported that campaign, I plan to vote “Yes” on I-1433 to raise the minimum wage to $13.50 over four years and allow all workers to earn paid sick leave. It’s right for Tacoma, for Pierce County and for the rest of this state.

Businesses in our community depend on people being paid enough to be customers at their stores. So it matters to me that the current state minimum wage is not enough for someone to afford a one-bedroom apartment and other living expenses anywhere in the state.

In fact, $12 isn’t enough here either, but it was the best option Tacoma voters were given last year. Interestingly, the National Low Income Housing Coalition puts the minimum wage required to afford a one-bedroom in Pierce County and still have money left to spend on other living expenses at over $16. Raising the minimum wage to $13.50 over four years sounds like a reasonable approach, doesn’t it?

It’s also a modest step to boost our economy, and the four-year phase in gives business owners time to plan.

In its editorial, the newspaper unfortunately relied on the same scare tactics of “unintended consequences” that opponents of raising the minimum wage have peddled for decades. But every time they’ve claimed the sky would fall, they’ve been wrong.

On the contrary, every state that raised its minimum wage in 2014 saw faster job growth than states that left their wages stagnant. Opponents made the exact same claims in 1998, the last time voters in this state raised the minimum wage at a faster rate, but the sky didn’t fall then and it won’t fall now.

Decades of results have shown that raising the minimum wage boosts our economy, because when low-wage workers earn more, they spend more. By raising the state minimum wage for more than 730,000 Washington workers, I-1433 will put $600 in the pocket of a minimum-wage worker every month.

That money isn’t going into the stock market; it’s going to be immediately spent on goods and services in the local community that workers couldn’t afford before.

There’s another important part of this initiative that seems to have escaped the TNT Editorial Board — that I-1433 will allow more than 1 million Washington workers to finally start earning paid sick and safe leave.

Right now, too many workers risk losing a paycheck if they stay home to care for themselves or a sick child. Tacoma workers may have very limited paid sick days now, but workers in Lakewood, University Place and Parkland don’t. That puts all of us at risk.

Initiative 1433 is a modest approach to raising the minimum wage and allowing workers to earn paid sick leave that will help workers and businesses thrive. It’s the right approach for Tacoma, Pierce County and the entire state.

Ryan Mello holds Position 8 on the Tacoma City Council. Reach him at ryan.mello@cityoftacoma.org.