Opinion

Tacoma needs a $15 minimum wage sooner, not later

Washington’s minimum wage is now at $9.47 an hour, which comes out to less than $20,000 a year. That’s below the official poverty level for a family of three.

Tacoma’s low-wage workers can’t live on that. Workers can’t pay for housing, transportation, food, medical care and child care, on $9.47 anhour or $19,697.60 per year. So if the bosses don’t pay their workers a high enough wage to survive, how the heck do workers manage to get by?

Someone else ponies up the shortfall. And that someone else is we, the taxpayers. That’s right; we foot the bill so someone else can profit from underpaying their workers.

According to an April 14 Washington Post article, 73 percent of public assistance recipients are working people. And according to a study at the University of California, Berkeley, nearly two-thirds of public assistance goes to working families. We the taxpayers shell out $152.8 billion a year to supplement poverty wages so employers with an entitlement attitude can profit.

Here’s my take: If you can’t run your business in a socially responsible manner, pay a fair price for labor power and operate legally, you don’t have a viable business plan.

Most businesses fail after a few years because they lack either a viable business plan or sufficient financial backing. That’s capitalism for you. People love capitalism until the market’s stormy squall smashes their lifeboat onto financial rocks.

A $15 per hour minimum wage equates to $31,200 a year. That’s about what it costs to live quite modestly in Tacoma. This salary is not exactly the American dream. In fact, it’s not even a middle-class income. It’s the bare minimum every working human in Tacoma requires for a life of some small dignity.

If you work hard every day, don’t you deserve a living wage?

The bosses claim that $15 per hour now is too sudden and too drastic a jump. They say this large of a leap is unprecedented. Instead, they now want a phase-in, after decades of profiting from woefully inadequate and stagnant wages.

But a U.S. Department of Labor website tells us that in 1949, the minimum wage jumped 58 percent overnight, and there was no negative hit on the economy. Moreover, Washington voters approved Initiative 688 in 1998, substantially hiking the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation.

Opponents raised all the same arguments you now hear against the proposed Proposition 1 which would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour now in Tacoma. They said employers would flee the state. Inflation and unemployment would skyrocket. The heavens would open and pour burning embers on us greedy workers.

None of that happened.

In fact, Washington state had a booming economy with high employment and low inflation until the great recession of 2007, nearly a decade later.

A $15 per hour minimum wage will actually help Tacoma’s economy, despite dire predictions of disaster. Today, investors hesitate to come here because Tacomans don’t have that much extra to spend.

The city provided incentives for big hotels and big-box stores to come here. But now those giants suck Tacoma dry of money and send it to their corporate headquarters in other states.

Our city gives them every reason to send that money out of Tacoma. A rise in Tacomans’ minimum wage would keep money here in Tacoma.

Low-wage workers don’t spend their money on stocks and bonds or sock it into hedge funds. They spend it locally, here in Tacoma. That increases local demand, which increases local business opportunities, which stimulates local job growth.

A $15 per hour minimum wage is good for our community, our economy, our families, our workers and Tacoma’s future.

Alan Stancliff of Tacoma volunteers with 15 Now Tacoma and several other community groups. He has been a union shop steward, community organizer, writer and lecturer.

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