Washington minimum wage petition still collecting signatures

SEATTLE, WA -- The all-volunteer effort to gather signatures for Initiative 688, the campaign to increase Washington state's minimum wage, hit a major milestone when it surpassed the halfway point in collecting signatures.

At last count there were almost 140,000 signatures collected. The magic number is 179,248 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot, but the coalition's goal is to obtain 240,000 by the July 2 deadline.

"This is a major accomplishment by thousands of volunteers, said Bob Swanson, co-chair of the initiative campaign. "But we have only a few weeks left, and a huge job ahead.We need every possible volunteer available to achieve our goal."

I-688 is the first statewide initiative effort in several years to depend on all-volunteer signature-gathering. "One goal of the campaign is to show the depth of support for the issue.You can't do an all-volunteer effort without people being truly dedicated to the cause," Swanson said. "We are confident that our tremendous volunteer support and people's eagerness to sign the petition will allow us to qualify for the Nov. 3 ballot -- and that more than enough people will vote 'yes.'"

To volunteer for signature gathering in Clark County, call (360) 694-5894.

A new study recently released confirms what proponents of Initiative 688 have been saying all along: Raising the minimum wage increases earnings among low-income families without job loss.

"Making Work Pay: The Impact of the 1996-97 Minimum Wage Increase," the most comprehensive analysis to date of the 1996-97 federal increase conducted by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a non-profit, non-partisan economic think-tank based in Washington, D.C., shows that the wage hike disproportionately benefited low-wage workers, as intended.

It also shows that the primary beneficiaries are workers from low-income households -- not teenagers from middle-and high-income families, as some critics charge. Four different tests further confirm that job opportunities have not been lost as a result of the wage hike.

In short, the new report by economists Jared Bernstein and John Schmitt, labor economists with EPI, shows that:

* The 1996-97 federal minimum wage increase of 90 cents raised the wages of almost 10 million workers, about 71 percent of whom were adults and 58 percent of whom were women. About half worked full-time and another third worked between 20 and 34 hours per week.

* The average minimum wage worker provides more than half of his or her household's weekly earnings.

* The two-stage increase disproportionately benefited low-income working families. Households in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution (average income: $15,728) receive only 5 percent of total family income in the U.S., but received 35 percent of the benefits of the minimum wage increase.

* Four different tests of the combined increase's impact on employment -- applied to a large number of demographic groups whose wages are sensitive to the minimum wage -- failed to find job loss associated with the 1996-97 increase.

The authors examined the low-wage labor market between October 1996 and February 1998, the most recent date for which data are available. This period begins with the initial increase of the federal minimum wage by 50 cents to $4.75 per hour, and encompasses an additional increase of 40 cents that went into effect on Sept. 1, 1997, raising the minimum wage to its present value of $5.15. At its current level, the minimum wage remains at only 82 percent of its 1979 value (adjusted for inflation).


June 5, 1998 issue

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