Martina Phelps can’t afford to support herself working at McDonalds in downtown Seattle. Her commute lasts hours. When she gets home, she shares her mother’s two-bedroom apartment with seven other people, including her 5-year-old niece.
Because Martina's wages are so low, she relies on food stamps and the food bank. That means taxpayers are helping despite her hard work. And Martina isn't the only fast food worker who received public assistance.
Martina isn’t alone. Statewide, low-wage workers including fast-food workers, retail clerks, long-term care workers, and others, face daily choices to pay bills or eat. Even with the highest minimum wage in the nation, Washington still is letting these people down.
They work hard, yet these workers still aren’t even breaking the threshold of the Federal poverty line. Many economists agree that low-wage workers like Martina spend any extra money they earn on basic needs and services, like transportation and healthcare.
Because Martina's wages are so low, she relies on food stamps and the food bank. That means taxpayers are helping despite her hard work. And Martina isn't the only fast food worker who received public assistance. Research from the University of California-Berkeley shows that more than half of fast-food workers nationally get public aide costing tax payers $7 billion each year.
When I introduced HB 2672, a bill that would raise the statewide minimum wage to $12/hour over three years, I had people like Martina in mind.
If Martina earned $12/hour, she said she could afford to buy a car and drastically reduce her commute time. She also could begin to save for a bachelor’s degree, adding to the associate’s degree she already completed.
When I introduced HB 2672, a bill that would raise the statewide minimum wage to $12/hour over three years, I had people like Martina in mind. Income inequality in America doesn’t just hamstring workers, it also, as Nelson Schwartz reported in the New York Times, erodes businesses. Improving the minimum wage would help people like Don Orange, of Vancouver, Washington, who owns Hoesly ECO Auto & Tire. Don realizes that when workers have more money to spend, they’ll get their cars repaired. It’s basic economics: extra money in workers’ pockets goes most directly into the local economy.
Think about it. A minimum-wage earner would take home $5,574 more each year if the minimum was raised from its current level to $12. That extra earning power will help Washington families and businesses.
This has played out already in communities like San Jose, California, where the minimum wage has been increased. Even the most conservative economic analysis demonstrates that tens of thousands of dollars already has been put into small businesses.
Many people believe, wrongly, that these low-wage workers who would benefit all are teens. In fact, 85 percent of minimum wage workers are 20 or older. Many, like Martina’s sister, have families to support. Almost two-out-of-three of these workers have a high school diploma, or like Martina, have completed some college.
We need to be duly inspired by the patriotism and commitment low-wage workers have shown in Seattle and SeaTac.
Taking this bold action today will help prepare our communities for what lies ahead. For all the attention we’ve rightly placed on jobs related to education priorities in science, technology, engineering and math, there also needs to be policy to address the stark reality that by 2019, 70 percent of jobs will not pay a living wage. Even if Martina completes her bachelor’s degree, her diploma would not guarantee a living-wage job, statistics show.
We need to be duly inspired by the patriotism and commitment low-wage workers have shown in Seattle and SeaTac. They are paving the way for a better future, a robust economy, a better America and a better Washington.
In the coming days, debate over the $12/hour minimum wage will echo through the halls of the Capitol. We must continue this discussion until the lives of all working people in our communities is improved. For Don Orange, for Martina Phelps, and for all Washingtonians, I urge my fellow legislators to support HB 2672.
Seattle state Rep. Jessyn Farrell is a first term legislator from North Seattle's 46th Legislative District. She tells PubliCola she supports the $15 minimum wage in Seattle, but thinks a basic floor of $12 is appropriate statewide. In addition to sponsoring this year's top labor priority bill, the $12 minimum wage, she's also sponsoring the environmental community's top priority, an oil transport safety bill.