My View: Minimum wage up, but still falls short
One in seven Oregon workers just got a raise.
On July 1, Oregon's minimum wage went up for some 300,000 working Oregonians.
While this is good news for the thousands of working families laboring at the minimum wage, this raise is still not enough for many families to make ends meet.
The minimum wage went up by $1.50 per hour in the Portland metro area and by 50 cents per hour in the rest of the state. This pay hike is the result of a new minimum wage structure put in place by the Oregon Legislature in February 2016, a big achievement made possible by a broad grassroots effort.
The new minimum wage law set up three different wage levels for the state and scheduled increases over the next few years. The increase taking effect this month is the second scheduled and it brings the minimum wage to $11.25 per hour in the Portland metro area, $10 per hour in nonurban counties and $10.25 per hour in the rest of the state.
As a result of this increase, a full-time minimum wage worker in the Portland metro area will earn $260 more per month. For minimum wage earners in nonurban counties and in the rest of the state, the monthly gain will be $87. Those amount to gains of about 15 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
This wage increase is not just good news for the lowest-paid workers. These workers also are customers, so the increase is also good news for the local businesses where these workers will spend their money.
Not surprisingly, the doom-and-gloom predictions by opponents of the wage increase have not materialized. Industries with high levels of minimum wage jobs, such as food services, have closely tracked Oregon's broader job market over the past two decades, a period with numerous minimum wage increases. Minimum wage jobs, like all jobs, rise and fall with the economy, not as a result of changes to the minimum wage. And right now, Oregon is enjoying one of its strongest job markets ever.
Yet, the minimum wage is still not close to what a family needs to make ends meet. To secure a safe and decent — yet modest — living standard, a single parent raising two children would need to earn about $26 per hour in rural Oregon, according to the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute. For Portland and some of the state's other metro areas, the figure is closer to $30 per hour.
The fact that the wage floor is far from what families need underscores the urgency for the Legislature to be bold in other areas. If wages still don't pay enough, then look for remedies on the other side of the ledger — public policies that address the high cost of basic necessities such as housing, child care and health care.
As the struggle continues to ensure that all Oregonians can live in dignity, we can pause to recognize some, albeit insufficient, progress for 300,000 Oregon workers.
Daniel Hauser is a policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy, a research organization committed to improving economic and social opportunities for Oregonians. For more information: ocpp.org