The Great Social Experiment: Thoughts on Seattle’s Minimum Wage Increase

I’m nervous about how Seattle’s minimum wage increase to fifteen dollars will play out. The prospect of doing something to narrow the gap between the haves and the have nots in this country is appealing, but I used to live in Seattle. My sister lives in Seattle. I have friends I worked with who are now starting families. Couldn’t we try this in Topeka, first, and see how it goes? (No offense to anyone in Topeka, but I don’t know you.)

I’ve done zero research on this, but I thought that might make this a good time to get my initial thoughts out there, and then I’ll put researching this on my list of projects. I’m already hearing mostly complaints, which I read as unease. People have legitimate concerns about inflation. People are predicting the economy will crash. Short term turmoil is maybe inevitable, which is enough for me to argue against this, or argue it be tried in Topeka. Then I’m reading that political pressure from somewhere caused this to pass. Again, I haven’t researched this, but I would like to hope that this is being tried because the city’s leaders recognized a massive problem and set a course to resolve it. I know too many people working seventy-hour weeks at multiple minimum wage jobs or close to minimum wage jobs in hopes of being able to afford to move out of their parents’ house. I know too many college graduates acquiring credit card debt as they pay off student loans along with their other bills while working one of these minimum wage jobs. These aren’t temporary positions because there are far too many of them for everyone to just be on their way to a profession where they can make a living wage.

So there is a problem, in my view. Will this fix it? I have no idea. I do think that arguing short term flux in the economy isn’t making a strong case against this. That is the quick, scary concern always raised in the face of change. The economy, money, is like water. Where is it flowing and where will it flow next? If average Joe retail workers are given a living wage they will have more disposable income, which will flow back into the economy. Whose pocket will that living wage come out of? Long term, that’s a difficult question to answer. No one can possibly know how this will play out, which makes it scary, which makes it terrifying. Money isn’t important, but feeding your kids, clothing them, giving them shelter (and your self) is.

Public opinion is going to influence the results. If everyone is voicing complaints that companies are going to cut labor, that will free them to cut more labor, without worrying about backlash. If everyone voices worry that fast food places will move to self-ordering stations, they’ll do it that much more quickly (keep in mind, we might have been headed there anyway). If this is happening, and people get behind it, it might go more smoothly.

The biggest concern I have, once again, having done little research, is what happens to the people making approximately this wage now? Those aren’t the haves, those are the almost-have-nots, those are teachers and skilled laborers, who need rewarded for taking time to be trained in jobs that require training, or there’s no incentive for getting that training and taking on a challenging position like teaching our children.

And I don’t like to anticipate reactions to what I’ve written, but arguing capitalism is not an argument. Pure capitalism does not exist. People argue that capitalism will fix everything if we just adhere to it, but we create a system with laws and tax breaks and any number of other things, and this is just a new one. So stating that it violates capitalism amounts to a cheap discussion ender. We have to be braver than that.

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