Both Governor Brown and the Democratic leadership of state legislature have publicly stated that raising the minimum wage is a priority for the 2016 short session, which only lasts for 5 weeks. Unfortunately, there was not a single Oregon legislator who was willing to submit a bill for a statewide $15 minimum wage. There are two plans, however, that are being considered. One would raise the statewide minimum wage to $13.50 over three years and repeal the preemption law that prevents cities from increasing their own minimum wage. The other plan, proposed by Governor Brown this past week, leaves the preemption in place and creates two regional minimum wages.
The first region in Governor Brown’s proposal would reach a minimum wage of $15.52 by 2022. This region would be composed of the Portland area as defined by the urban growth boundaries. According to the Portland Tribune, it means that the following cities and surrounding unincorporated areas would move to a minimum wage of $15.52 under the governor’s plan:
Portland, Hillsboro, Gresham, Beaverton, Tigard, Lake Oswego, Tualatin, Troutdale, West Linn, Forest Grove, Cornelius, Wood Village, Wilsonville, Sherwood, Fairview, Happy Valley, Damascus, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Gladstone, Johnson City, Maywood Park, King City, Durham and Rivergrove.
The second region would include the rest of the state, where the minimum wage would increase to only $13.50 by 2022.
There are at least a couple of things that are obviously wrong with Governor Brown’s plan. The phase in is entirely too long. These wages in 2022 will be poverty wages. In fact, these wages in 2016 are poverty wages in most parts of the state. The phase needs to be faster, and the rest of the state outside of Portland can not be left behind with less than $15. Anything less than $15 is not enough. This isn’t just slogan, it is a reality that is based on real numbers. This gives us a perfect opportunity to explore exactly why the entire State of Oregon needs $15 and nothing less.
It is a given that it is more expensive to live in the Portland area than in the rest of the state. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the state has a low cost of living or doesn’t need $15. Portland, in reality, needs more than $15. In order to afford a single bedroom apartment in Portland without being cost burdened, you need make $18-20 per hour working 40 hours per week. So Portland actually needs quite a bit more than $15, and the rest of the state also needs $15 as a baseline. It is a starting point to self-sufficiency.
In places like Bend rents are increasing at out of control rates just like they are in the Portland area. Just like in Portland, many tenants in Bend and other parts of central Oregon have found themselves being pushed out by rent hikes of $200 per month or more. The Democratic leadership in Salem—Governor Brown, Senate President Courtney, House Speaker Kotek— tells us that $15 is too much in Bend, that $13.50 six years from now is enough. But the reality is that it isn’t enough for families in Oregon get by with the dignity of self-sufficiency.
But outside of Portland it isn’t just Bend, a wealthy vacationer’s paradise, where rents are expensive. As the table below illustrates, the median rent in places like Ashland, Medford, and Albany are about the same as in Portland, particularly when given the difference in per capita income. In each of these cities, and many others throughout Oregon, you need to earn at least $15 per hour or more in order to be able to afford the median price of rent without being cost burdened. These numbers speak not only to the need for a statewide $15 minimum wage, but also to the need to restore local power over rent control and inclusionary zoning laws in Oregon.
According to the Alliance for a Just Society’s most recent Job Gap report, a single individual with no dependents living anywhere in Oregon needs to earn at least $15.99 in order to be self-sufficient. If you have kids and need childcare, then according to an Oregon Department of Human Services study conducted by Oregon State University you are going to need to earn $15 per hour or more in all but a small handful of Oregon’s 36 counties to afford the median rate for small home-based childcare, which is less expensive than large home-based or care center-based childcare.
The Oregon Self-Sufficiency Standard, published by the University of Washington, School of Social Work’s Center for Women’s Welfare, shows that the average wage needed by a single mother in Oregon to adequately care for herself and one child was $15.57 in 2014. This report also shows living wages down to the county level. In the Portland area—and in a total of 7 counties, most of which are rural—a single mother needs to earn at least $20 per hour in order to be self-sufficient. At the same time, in one half of Oregon’s 36 counties a single mother with one child needed to earn at least $15 per hour in order to be self-sufficient in 2014.
The numbers speak for themselves. If our goal is to bring working families in Oregon out of poverty, if our goal is lift up those working people who struggle the most, then it is clear that anything less than $15 for the entire state of Oregon is not enough. In fact if the governor’s proposal passes, then by the time we get to the new wage floor in 2022 we will already be fighting for $25 Now here in Oregon.