Raising the Minimum Wage for Working Men and Women in California and the Rest of America

Highest Minimum-Wage State Washington Beats U.S. Job Growth

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When Washington residents voted in 1998 to raise the state’s minimum wage and link it to the cost of living, opponents warned the measure would be a job-killer. The prediction hasn’t been borne out.

In the 15 years that followed, the state’s minimum wage climbed to $9.32 — the highest in the country. Meanwhile job growth continued at an average 0.8 percent annual pace, 0.3 percentage point above the national rate. Payrolls at Washington’s restaurants and bars, portrayed as particularly vulnerable to higher wage costs, expanded by 21 percent. Poverty has trailed the U.S. level for at least seven years.

The debate is replaying on a national scale as Democrats led by President Barack Obama push for an increase in the $7.25-an-hour federal minimum, while opponents argue a raise would hurt those it’s intended to help by axing jobs for the lowest-skilled. Even if that proves true, Washington’s example shows that any such effects aren’t big enough to throw its economy and labor market off the tracks.

“It’s hard to see that the state of Washington has paid a heavy penalty for having a higher minimum wage than the rest of the country,” said Gary Burtless, an economist at Brookings Institution who formerly was at the U.S. Labor Department.

• Category: National, Notable • Tags: Peter Robison, Victoria Stilwell, William Selway