Local economists gathered Tuesday at Portland State University to express support for a $15 minimum wage for Oregon and nationally.
Speakers included professors Mary King and Robin Hahnel from PSU, and Martin Hart-Landsberg from Lewis and Clark. The three are part of a larger group of more than 200 economists across the country, 10 of whom live and work in Oregon, who signed a letter in support of Bernie Sanders’ proposal to raise the minimum wage nationally to $15.
The local economists gave several reasons why a $15 minimum wage would not only be economically viable, but necessary.
As Professor King explained: “a substantial increase in the minimum wage begins to counter the terrible growth of economic inequality…”
At the press conference, the three economists expressed their support for the 2016 ballot initiative to raise Oregon’s minimum wage to $15 over three years. The endorsement is significant because during the last legislative session bills to raise the minimum wage ranged in number from $10.75 per hour up to $15 per hour. But these local economists all agree: Oregon shouldn’t settle for less than $15.
Professor King pointed out that several comprehensive studies– including the University of Washington Self-Sufficiency Standard for Oregon– conclude that a living wage in Oregon is at least $15. Professor King also testified in support of $15 before Portland’s city council and the Oregon State Legislature this past year. She has routinely addressed some of the myths surrounding raising the minimum wage, such as causing unemployment and inflation to increase.
“San Francisco has already hiked its minimum wage to $12.25, on its way to $15,” explained Professor King. “Unemployment there is 3.5%, and prices are rising at a rate no faster than before.”
Seattle, too, has experienced no negative effect on unemployment as it phases in a $15 minimum wage. In fact the city’s unemployment rate has been going down.
The Oregon economists helped debunk these and other economic scare tactics that conservative groups are using across the country, with little or no evidence to backup their claims that a higher minimum wage is bad for the economy.
The economics of the minimum wage will continue to be a battleground as the ‘Fight for $15’ grows and rages across the nation. But while opponents continue to reinforce their belief that any raise in the minimum wage is bad, even the businesses-friendly Forbes magazine recently wrote in a national assessment of the data behind raising minimum wage, a “higher minimum wage is not killing restaurant jobs”. Or any jobs for that matter.
The campaign for $15 in Oregon believes that no one who works should live in poverty. The backing of Oregon economists is yet another symptom of a movement that has stormed onto the national political arena, and that will continue to leverage considerable power in Oregon politics.