One-size-fits-all minimum wage hike hurts rural Central Washington

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Dan Newhouse

Last week, the House of Representatives voted on the Raise the Wage Act, which would increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, despite warnings from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that this would result in the loss of nearly 4 million American jobs.

In Washington state, we have already seen how mandating a higher minimum wage is negatively affecting our economy. With a state-wide minimum wage of $12 per hour, Washington mandates one of the highest rates in the country, and it will increase by another $1.50 in January 2020. In an attempt to address wage disparity in large cities like Seattle, which already institutes a $15 minimum wage, this sharp, mandatory increase has led to businesses filing bankruptcy, and it is already having a harmful effect on small businesses and non-profits in Central Washington.

The Boys and Girls Club of the Columbia Basin in Moses Lake, for example, reached out to my office to share their concerns with the state’s accelerated wage increases and about the federal legislation. Their after-school and summer programs for children in Grant County spur creativity and instill crucial social skills they will use for the rest of their lives. They are grateful for the limited state program funding they receive, but their wages are paid entirely out of their operating budget, which is reliant upon charitable donations.

The organization is required to maintain a certain ratio of employees to children in order to administer these important programs, and their average employee is a high school or college student, looking to pursue a summer or part-time job. Many of their employees use their experience at the Boys and Girls Club as a stepping stone for their future careers. They are given the opportunity to work with children and see the impact they can make on their lives, and many of them turn to a lifelong career in child services or other non-profit work.

The Boys and Girls Club is already struggling, but further increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour for the entry-level employees they hire will force them to make a very difficult decision: raise participation fees for low-income families or eliminate the programs they offer. Either way, opportunity is lost – whether it be for the child whose family can no longer afford to send them to the Club or for the future social workers who never realized their passion for working with kids.

Every hard-working American deserves to earn a living wage. After the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, we witnessed companies across the nation improve benefits and invest in education and training programs for their employees, and wages have steadily continued to rise. We should be empowering employers to create more jobs and offer higher paychecks – not tying their hands and forcing them out of our communities.

This federal minimum wage law attempts to apply a one-size-fits-all starting wage to communities across the country, without taking into account the stark differences in the cost of living, thriving industries, and jobs available. I voted against the Raise the Wage Act because I have seen how families and communities in Central and Eastern Washington suffer from decisions made on the more populous and progressive west side of the state. We should not accept a federal mandate that further disproportionately burdens employers in our smaller, rural communities.

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