fresh voices from the front lines of change







Amidst the lack of action on raising the minimum wage at the federal level, a vibrant city on the West coast has taken lead: Seattle. Just this June, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to increase the city’s minimum wage to reach $15 an hour by 2017.

On Wednesday, the Center for American Progress held “How American Cities Can Lead the Fight to Raise the Wage”, with keynote speaker Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. Known as “a laboratory of democracy”, under Mayor Murray's leadership Seattle has taken the lead on the fight to provide a living wage for the nation’s minimum wage workers.

“Cities who can seize these issues can determine their destiny, leading the nation towards how we can create an equitable country,” Murray said at the start of his speech.

Mayor Murray’s faced an uphill battle, and no one thought he would succeed. That makes the story of Seattle’s victory in the fight for livable wages one worth noting. Here are a few important takeaways for other cities to follow:

A coordinated panel: Mayor Murray created a 24-person Income Inequality Task Force, made of experts from nonprofits, labor organizations, and businesses.

Concrete goals: The Task Force outlined three principles: 1) help our workers, 2) without harming the employers,  and 3) avoid costly fight between businesses and labor. These three concrete goals then guided the outline of plans moving forward.

Setting a timeline: The proposal didn’t pass overnight. Seattle set a tight timeline, including events such as online town halls, city symposiums, and analysis of national economic impacts.

Collaboration: Mayor Murray emphasized repeatedly the need for collaboration in the process of raising the minimum wage. Businesses needed to participate as well.

Why should other cities follow Seattle’s model for raising the minimum wage? During the session, panelist David Rolf, the international Vice President of SEIU, shared three facts discovered by Mayor Murray’s Income Advisory Committee, based on data from around the country:

  • Of the 10 states that had raised their minimum wage over the federal: nine of them have experienced faster job growth than the economy as a whole
  • Cities that had raised their minimum wage higher than the state experienced higher job growth when the economy was growing, and slower layoffs when the economy was shrinking
  • In border towns where one state has a higher minimum wage (such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania), the state with the higher minimum wage pulls up the state adjoining it, rather than losing in competition.

The conclusion, in David’s words, is “the idea that increasing the minimum wage costs jobs is simply a lie.” Rather, increasing the minimum wage help not only the workers, but benefit employers and grow our overall economy.

In sharp contrast to the progress that has been made in Seattle, Congress has been unable to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10, which was the real wage value for 1968.

As Mayor Ed Murray said at the event today, “We cannot continue our 34-year spiral downward of wage stagnation… Income inequality is the underlying issue beneath everything we’re trying to do not only in this country.”

It’s time to take the Seattle model and export it across the nation.


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