Washington state’s minimum wage went up to $7.93 yesterday — an automatic cost-of-living adjustment — $2.78 higher than the federally mandated minimum wage of $5.15/hour paid just across the Idaho border. And according to an AP story in today’s Seattle Times, that’s great for minimum wage workers like James Randall, a University of Idaho student who lives in Moscow but delivers pizza 30 hours a week in Pullman.
“It’s kinda hard to make ends meet,” Randall said. “I’m just glad the state of Washington has tied the minimum [wage] to inflation. That way it’s advantageous to everyone.”
But of course, this article was written by a professional journalist, and thus there must be two sides (and usually only two sides) to every story. If our state’s higher minimum wage is good for workers on both sides of the border, then it must be bad for businesses here in Washington, right?
Yeah, well, so one Pullman business owner “thinks” while another supposes that it will “catch up to me eventually,” and that’s enough for the AP to spin the other side of the story. Of course there are tons of academic and government reports studying the economic impact of minimum wage hikes here and elsewhere, but why bother with hard facts and numbers when one can report anecdotal suppositions to back up your thesis?
Hmm. Well if this whole debate amounts to little more than a thought experiment, how about this angle: if a higher minimum wage is bad for Pullman businesses because it squeezes profits and forces prices higher, what kind of impact does it have on Idaho businesses who can’t attract and retain qualified employees like Randall while paying them only two-thirds the wage available just across the border? Workers are just as mobile as customers after all, so you think maybe WA’s minimum wage law is forcing wages up in Idaho towns all along the border? So wouldn’t that relieve some of the economic pressure on businesses in WA border towns?
Of course, I could do a little research to find some studies that back up my thesis, but I’m striving for journalistic professionalism here, so I wouldn’t want to stray from pure conjecture and supposition.
In fact, there is pressure on Idaho to raise its minimum wage and tie future increases to inflation, and just such a bill made some progress in the Idaho legislature last session.
Idaho’s minimum wage has been at the federal level of $5.15 an hour for about 10 years. A state bill to increase the wage to $6.15 an hour — and mandate yearly increases tied to inflation, like in Washington — died in an Idaho House committee this spring because some lawmakers feared it would lead to higher prices, increase unemployment rates and reduce incentives for low-paid workers to improve themselves.
That’s right, because we all know that, um… it’s not the employers who choose to pay a sub-subsistence wage that are at the root of the problem, but rather the lazy workers who choose to take these low-paid jobs. I mean, if we pay people like Randall a living wage, he’ll never have the incentive to improve himself. He’ll just drop out of college and deliver pizza for the rest of his life.