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Report: Wash. Families Still Struggle Under Improved Economy

According to a new report, Washington's economy is improving, but the cost of living also is rising. (OFL Communications Department/Flickr)
According to a new report, Washington's economy is improving, but the cost of living also is rising. (OFL Communications Department/Flickr)
October 26, 2016

LONG BEACH, Wash. – Jobs are coming back and incomes are improving across Washington state, but families still are struggling to pay for the basics, according to a new report.

The analysis Time for a Raise: Statewide Growth and Washington's Minimum Wage found many of the jobs in the Evergreen State's growing economy are low-wage. It says workers in those jobs are finding it hard to cover increasing costs for housing, child care and other necessities.

Study author Marilyn Watkins, policy director for the Economic Opportunity Institute, believes voters should pass Initiative 1433 this November and raise the minimum wage for workers.

"Those are important jobs. Those people should not be living in poverty; paying them something that's going to allow them to cover the basics and live in basic dignity is an important thing," says Watkins. "It also is something that's going to help boost our own economy. When people have a little more to spend, they're going to spend that money."

Initiative 1433 would raise the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour statewide by 2020. Opponents of the measure argue that the increase could cost jobs or mean that businesses will have to raise their prices; some have suggested the minimum wage should be increased regionally rather than statewide.

The measure also would require employers to provide paid sick leave for employees.

Tiffany Turner, CEO of the Adrift Hotel in Long Beach, Wash., says she supports the initiative. Turner is convinced it's shortsighted to think only about any initial squeeze businesses might feel because of an increased minimum wage.

"We're a low-wage industry, but we fundamentally pride ourselves on how we treat our workers and how we work within our community," she says of the hospitality industry. "And I think that businesses can and will figure out how to adapt, and ultimately I believe it will make our businesses stronger."

Watkins points to recent studies that have looked at neighboring counties across state lines and found a number of benefits to raising the minimum wage, including higher worker retention.

"What does happen when you raise the minimum wage is that incomes for low-wage workers rise and turnover decreases among low-wage workers," says Watkins. "So, that saves businesses lots of money, and there really is no impact on the number of jobs that are available."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA