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.