Editorial: Seattle needs a minimum-wage increase, but implementation matters
Seattle’s minimum wage debate is too important to rush.
SEATTLE’S low-wage workforce, struggling with a rising cost of living, deserves a raise.
Based on economic studies, a compelling case has been made that the current $9.32 hourly minimum wage could rise to, or even slightly above $10.74 — San Francisco’s top-in-the-nation rate — without harming the local economy. But the higher it goes beyond historic precedent, the higher the risk.
What Seattle’s wage floor would rise to, and how it would be elevated, is the political question of the moment. Mayor Ed Murray planned to announce a proposal Thursday, after nearly four months of work by his appointed minimum-wage task force. Instead, with the task force still split, he punted.
That gave the 24-member group, which represents business, labor unions and nonprofits, more time to reach a deal that could hang together once Murray sends it to the Seattle City Council.
Good decision. Thoughtful deliberation, rather than artificial deadlines set amid political sloganeering, is appropriate for a serious shift in economic policy. Debate on the minimum wage has thankfully shifted as the business community has pushed back against calls for a quick, flat $15 minimum wage.
Any new minimum wage must be phased in over more than three years, with longer landing zones for small businesses and nonprofit organizations — they operate on tight margins and have less budget flexibility.
Any adjustment should account for compensation other than cash, particularly health insurance. The Affordable Care Act exempts employers with fewer than 50 employees, so a minimum-wage law that counts those benefits as compensation would encourage coverage.
Tip wages in the food-service industry are counted as taxable income, and should count toward a minimum wage. Such a provision would ensure that servers who often make well more than $15 an hour in tips keep their good jobs, while lower-paid, non-tipped workers in the food-service industry would see a bump.
The target is bold. The implementation should be careful.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).