As part of Washington’s Initiative 1433, approved by voters in November 2016, Washington’s minimum wage will be increased to $13.50 by January 1, 2020.  At the time the initiative was approved, Washington’s minimum wage was $9.47 per hour and increased with the cost of living.  It was the eighth-highest minimum wage in the country. The federal minimum wage was $7.25.  In 2014, Seattle became the first major city to approve a $15 minimum wage.

Initiative 1433 increased the state’s minimum wage to $13.50 by January 1, 2020. Thereafter, the minimum wage will be increased with the cost of living. Washington’s minimum wage is set to increase as follows:

Meant to improve the lives of low-income workers in our state, the minimum wage issue is a hotly debated topic—especially in Seattle, with the 2014 increase in the minimum wage to $15 hour.  Put simply, proponents of minimum wage increases argue that raising the minimum wage helps employers ensure their workers maintain a decent quality of life and increase spending power.  The argument is that more money in the hands-on employees will stimulate the economy.  Opponents argue that minimum wage increases costs for employers, which means less money goes back into the business or investors and fewer jobs / higher unemployment rates.

Two dueling studies published in June 2017 have added fuel to the fire.  One study, by a team at the University of Washington, found a large, negative effect on earnings of lower-wage workers as Seattle raised is minimum wage from $11 to $13 per hour in its second stage (on the way to the $15/hour increase).  The UW study contradicted years of research, consistently finding that the benefits of increases for low wage workers exceeded the costs in terms of reduced employment.  Many argued the UW study was flawed and an outlier.  An opposing study, by researchers at a labor center at University of California, Berkeley, found no significant drop in jobs in Seattle as the minimum wage increased, bolstering the historical economic findings that minimum wage increases did, in fact, improve the lives of low-income workers.  This debate will likely continue into the upcoming years as our entire state’s minimum wage steps up to $13.50 by January 1, 2020.

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