Finally, Some Good News for Working Families

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This morning, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian announced that the state’s minimum wage will increase to $9.10 per hour in 2014 to keep up with inflation.

Minimum Wage WorkersThat’s a $0.15 per hour increase—which may not sound like a lot, but will add up to an additional $234 per year for people working 30 hours a week. That will benefit an estimated 98,000 workers, and countless others as those funds are spent here in Oregon.

Despite some popular misconceptions (peddled by surrogates from big corporations) about who makes the minimum wage, national data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute shows that the average age of a minimum-wage worker is 35 years old. More than 35 percent are older than 40. Some 56 percent are women, and 28 percent have children. In fact, just 12 percent of minimum wage workers are teenagers.

The announced increase in the minimum wage will benefit working adults. Because these wages will be used to pay directly for necessities (food, rent, clothes, gas, diapers, etc.), those funds will stay in Oregon’s local economies. That’s good news for our small businesses.

All told, the increase is expected to generate more than $20 million in additional consumer spending in the state.

Why is this so important? As we’ve written about many times recently, Oregon’s working people and middle-class families are getting left behind. Middle-class jobs have vanished, and they’re being replaced by low-wage jobs with few hours and little to no benefits.

Even while corporate profits are at an all-time high, employers continue to slash hours, wages, and benefits, while shipping jobs and profits overseas. In fact, because there are so few options (if any) for workers, people are having to settle for part-time, low-wage jobs—which means that corporations have no reason to improve their wages or benefits.

In fact, corporations have an even greater incentive to keep wages down: CEOs get hefty bonuses for increasing their corporation’s profits, even at the expense of workers and our communities.

How’s that working out for us? Well, last week, a report was released showing that the income gap between the top 1% and everyone else is now wider than it ever has been before. So has the employment gap.

From 2009-2010, the top 1% saw their income increase by $43,625. By contrast, most everyone else has seen their income actually fall since the end of the recession.

As a share of the economy, corporate profits are higher now than they’ve been since 1929. By the same measure, wages and salaries are at their lowest point since 1929.

This is trend is clearly unsustainable. And that’s why now more than ever, we need ways for workers and middle-class families to come together to fight for our communities—for our jobs, tax fairness, and funding for our basic priorities.

Today’s announcement of the increase in Oregon’s minimum wage obviously won’t reverse the larger trend. The basic numbers for low-income workers are undeniably stark: A person working full time at the new minimum wage will make $18,928 per year. For a single parent with two kids, that’s below the federal poverty level of $19,530.

Still it’s a glimmer of good economic news that will mean real benefits for our local communities. And we’ll take all the good news we can get.

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