By C.N. Staff Writer
The minimum wage debate in the District has begun to reach its final stages. In mid December the council voted to raise the minimum wage to from $8.25 to $11.50 an hour by year 2016. In a unanimous vote by the 13-member council, the bill to raise the minimum wage by 2016 has now been passed and awaits the mayor’s signature. Mayor Gray has pledged to continue working with the council.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. The District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce has called for raising the minimum wage to $10 over three years and then indexing it to inflation. By the end of 2014 the minimum wage will be $9.50, by 2015 $10.50 and by 2016 $11.50. Once fully instituted, the District would become the highest paid minimum wage city.
Over the summer, the council passed the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), which would have required that certain large employers pay at least $12.50 per hour. Walmart, which was then considering expanding into D.C. opposed the bill, and Mayor Gray ultimately vetoed the bill. Walmart threatened to stop the development of other planned stores across the city, in some of the area’s most needy areas if LRAA was passed.
The fight for raising minimum wage has taken a national stage. In the month of December fast-food workers went on strike across the United States as part of a campaign to raise pay to $15 an hour. Other cities and states to raise their minimum wage include New Jersey, California and SeaTac, Washington.
Wage hike advocate Reverend Graylan Hagler, of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, says he is glad that D.C. has caught up with the rest of the country as it relates to this issue. “This issue of raising the minimum wage is raging all over this country in cities and towns as we see people from even McDonalds going out on strikes and in protests. And so the issue becomes that the Council was not leading on this issue, they were behind the times, they were overtly cautious, and that caution put them on the wrong side of where opinion was,” he says.
Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince George’s counties also raised their minimum wage to $11.50 an hour. Hagler says the regional approach to raising the minimum wage helped ease the way for the bill’s passage in D.C. “It took away the excuse that is often used in D.C. that if they don’t remain competitive with the neighboring states that jobs will flee to those areas,” he says.
Opponents of the wage hike have argued that the increase could place D.C. in a less attractive job market over the next few years. Jim Dinegar, the president and chief executive of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, told Reuters the higher wages would make the capital and the region less attractive to business, especially since Virginia’s rate remained unchanged. Virgina has not said it would raise its minimum wage, which currently sits at $7.25 an hour. “They think they’re doing this in a vacuum. They’re not,” said Dinegar.
The Obama administration recently declared its support for a proposed law, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10, higher than the president’s original proposal of $9.00. Had the federal minimum wage kept up with inflation since 1968, it would now be worth nearly $11.
According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 would allow 27.8 million workers to see their salaries increase. The EPI study also suggested that the initial phase-in period would see the U.S. economy grow by about $22 billion dollars. According to the EPI, the current $7.25 minimum wage isn’t enough for a family of two to live above the poverty line or meet the basic needs of a single person in America’s cheapest county.