There’s talk again of raising Oregon’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, and next year the Legislature will be so heavily Democratic it could do just that without a single Republican vote. Let us hope cooler heads prevail.
It’s such a warm and fuzzy idea, we’ll admit. Improve the lot of Oregonians by forcing their employers to pay them more, and all will be well. But there are genuine problems with the idea, and they should be fully and honestly explored.
Among them is one that Gov. John Kitzhaber pointed out while he was campaigning for a fourth term as governor. Programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamps) are income-based, and the bump in income could mean the loss of eligibility for workers. That’s fine if income rises enough to cover the loss, but it won’t always be the case.
In reality, according to Associated Oregon Industries’ Oregon Prosperity Project, a $15 minimum wage would have a direct impact on relatively few people. More than half of the 5.5 percent of minimum wage earners in Oregon also receive tips, for one thing. Too, most are part-time employees. Perhaps most important, most minimum wage workers are not the sole source of income in their families, a fact that applies nationwide.
Finally, there’s this:
Oregon businesses, like businesses everywhere, have a finite pot of money with which to work. Bump the minimum wage from next year’s $9.25 per hour to $15 per hour and it’s likely something — or someone — else will go. Employers may opt not to hire for entry-level jobs or not advance those in them to higher paying ones as quickly. Some may be forced to lay off employees to make up the difference.
In the end, each of those choices hurts Oregonians.