Local Radio Host Very Confused About the Minimum Wage

Is radio still a thing? (Image courtesy of pandpstock001 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Is radio still a thing? (Image courtesy of pandpstock001 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Eric Mandel, the “Digital Content Producer” at myNorthwest.com, reports that Seattle-area conservative talk radio host Dori Monson has some opinions about Raise Up Washington, the coalition fighting to raise Washington State’s minimum wage to $13.50 over four years.

First of all, the column begins with a quiet little victory of its own. Monson, who has for years been an angry opponent of Seattle’s $15 minimum wage, seems to now be okay with $15. “Upping the minimum wage in Seattle is one thing,” Mandel says in a paraphrase of Monson’s argument, implying that he has come to accept the wage. He also seems to be taking it on faith that $15 is right for Seattle in this paragraph:

“The cost of living in a place like Colfax is dramatically different from the cost of living if you are on Queen Anne or Fremont in Seattle,” [Monson] said. “It doesn’t make any sense to have a statewide minimum wage. The economies of rural Eastern Washington and urban cities in Western Washington are night and day, and (it’s not smart) to say a minimum wage should be one-size fits all.”

So, yeah, it sure sounds like Monson might be a convert to $15. Welcome, Dori! It’s never too late to get right on an issue. But addressing Monson’s finer point in that paragraph: it’s perfectly okay to believe that the minimum wage should not be one-size-fits-all. That’s why, if Raise Up Washington’s initiative passes, the minimum wage will be $13.50 in rural areas by 2020, but in Seattle it will be more than two dollars higher than that in many cases, to account for the higher cost of living in Seattle. Problem solved!

Monson’s other point is a common misconception about the minimum wage that gets repeated a whole lot:

“Minimum-wage jobs generally are entry-level jobs,” he said. “They are jobs that you work while you’re finishing your college degree or while you are acquiring some trade skills if college is not for you. It is not meant to be a living wage. It is meant to be a stepping stone.”

That entry-level, stepping-stone argument maybe used to be true, but it’s not anymore. Minimum wage jobs have a tendency to remain minimum wage jobs, according to Ben Casselman at FiveThirtyEight:

During the strong labor market of the mid-1990s, only 1 in 5 minimum-wage workers was still earning minimum wage a year later. Today, that number is nearly 1 in 3, according to my analysis of government survey data. There has been a similar rise in the number of people staying in minimum-wage jobs for three years or longer.

As to Monson’s suggestion that the minimum wage isn’t meant to be a living wage—I’d like to see him tell that to the large number of low-wage workers in the state. Raise Up Washington’s FAQ (PDF) explains:

Over 730,000 workers in Washington State would benefit from raising the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour. Currently, over half of workers (53 percent) earning less than $13.50 an hour are over the age of 30, with a greater share of workers over age 55 (13 percent) earning less than $13.50 an hour compared to teens (9 percent). The majority are working full time (59 percent), and have family incomes below $60,000/year (66 percent). Women are more likely than men to earn under $13.50 an hour, as are people of color – over 40 percent of Latino and Black workers earn less than $13.50 an hour.

Really? Nearly three-quarters of a million workers in Washington, more than half of whom are over 30 years old, don’t deserve a raise? Their families don’t deserve a living wage?

I don’t know, Dori. I think you’re going to come around on Raise Up Washington the same way you’ve apparently come around on Seattle’s $15 minimum wage. You’ll figure it out eventually.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.