Seattle’s $15 Minimum Wage Origins

Published on ZNet (first on Portside), by Peter Dreier, June 14, 2014.

An idea that only a year ago appeared both radical and impractical has become a reality. On Monday, Seattle struck a blow against rising inequality when its City Council unanimously adopted a citywide minimum wage of $15 an hour, the highest in the nation.  

This dramatic change in public policy is partly the result of changes brought about by last November’s Seattle municipal elections. But it is also the consequence of years of activism in Seattle and around the country. Now that Seattle has established a new standard, the pace of change is likely to accelerate quickly as activists and politicians elsewhere seek to capture the momentum. Five years from now, Americans may look back at this remarkable victory and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Seattle now joins a growing list of cities—including San Francisco, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, San Jose, and Washington, D.C. (along with two adjacent Maryland counties)—that in the past few years have seized growing frustration over the widening income gap and declining living standards by establishing local minimum wages substantially above the federal level of $7.25. Unions, community groups, and progressive politicians in San Diego, New York City, Oakland, Los Angeles, and other cities are already taking steps to follow in Seattle’s footsteps.

In nineteen states, minimum wages are now over $7.25 an hour; ten of those states automatically increase their minimum wages with inflation. The highest state-mandated wage law is in Washington State, where the minimum wage increased to $9.32 in January. In September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that raised the state’s minimum wage from $8 to $9 an hour this year, and to $10 an hour in 2016, but last week the state Senate pushed the bar even higher, approving a bill to lift the pay floor to $13 an hour by 2017. Earlier this year, Minnesota raised its minimum wage by $3 to $9.50 an hour starting in 2016, while Connecticut will require employers to pay $10.10 an hour by 2017. Many other states have substantial wage hikes on the drawing boards.


The gridlock on Capitol Hill (long text) … //


… The battle in Seattle (long text) … //


… Progressives have clearly won the moral argument. Americans believe that people who work should not live in poverty. So business groups have to resort to persuading the public that raising the federal minimum wage—or adopting a living wage or minimum wage plan at the local level – will hurt the economy. Business lobby groups and business-funded think tanks— including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its local affiliates, the National Restaurant Association, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Employment Policies Institute (an advocacy group funded by the restaurant industry) and other industry trade associations—typically dust off studies warning that firms employing low-wage workers will be forced to close, hurting the very people the measure was designed to help.

But such dire predictions have not materialized. That’s because they’re bogus. In fact, many economic studies show that raising the minimum wage is good for business and the overall economy. Why? Because when low-wage workers have more money to spend, they spend it, almost entirely in the local community, on basic necessities like housing, food, clothing and transportation. When consumer demand grows, businesses thrive, earn more profits, and create more jobs. Economists call this the “multiplier effect.”

Moreover, most minimum-wage jobs are in “sticky” local industries—such as restaurants, hotels, hospitals and nursing homes and retail stores—that can’t simply flee to another city.

In their new book, When Mandates Work: Raising Living Standards at the Local Level, economists Michael Reich and Ken Jacobs of the University of California at Berkley summarize the findings of research on the impact of local minimum wage laws. They discovered thatthere are no differences in employment levels between comparable cities with and without living-wage laws. In doing so, they showed that business lobby groups are crying wolf when they claim that these laws drive away business and kill jobs.

“Seattle has made a significant step. We are leading the nation,” said Mayor Murray after Monday’s vote. “We need a movement in America. The federal government is stuck. States are stuck. The cities must lead.”

(full, long long text).

(Peter Dreier, who teaches politics at Occidental College, is the author of The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame /Nation Books, 2012 - (see also on amazon, and all his books on amazon).


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The Engineered Destruction and Political Fragmentation of Iraq. Towards the Creation of a US Sponsored Islamist Caliphate: The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, an instrument of the Western Military Alliance, on Global, by Prof Michel Chossudovsky, June 14, 2014;

Cohen on Ukraine civil war: Lincoln didn’t call Confederates terrorists, on Russia Today RT, June 14, 2014;

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Egypt – on Al-Ahram weekly online:

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Brazil: A World Soccer Cup for Corporations, on Waging NonViolence, by Marta Molina, June 12, 2014;

The U.S. Empire and the Peace Process, on Zmagazine, by Ramzy Baroud, May 26, 2014;

real-world economics review no 67, May 9, 2014, now downloadable for free, 148 pdf-pages;

Voir sur mon blog Humanitarian Texts:

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Update Iraq crisis:

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