Minimum wage to rise

Eugene Register-Guard
September 16, 2011

The state adjusts the standard to $8.80 to offset a 3.77 percent rise in consumer prices since August 2010

By Ilene Aleshire

Oregon’s minimum wage will go up 30 cents per hour, to $8.80, next year, state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian announced Thursday. The increase mirrors a 3.77 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index since August 2010, Avakian said.

“Safeguarding the wages of low-income workers is especially critical in a tough economy,” Avakian said in a statement. “Oregon’s economy will not rebound if we allow 144,538 minimum wage earners to fall behind inflation.”

Oregon’s current minimum wage is the second-highest among all 50 states, behind only to Washington state’s $8.67, according to the nonpartisan Oregon Center for Public Policy. Washington will announce its 2012 minimum wage on Sept. 30, Avakian said.

Oregon is one of 10 states that annually adjust the minimum wage based on inflation and the CPI.

Even though Oregon’s minimum wage is second-highest in the nation, it’s not enough to prevent poverty among some working families, said Chuck Sheketoff, executive director of the center, which is considered a liberal-leaning think tank.

The Jan. 2 increase will mean an extra $624 a year for a family with one full-time minimum wage worker, Sheketoff said in a statement. That means a minimum-­wage worker with two dependents will earn $18,304 next year, he said, still below the 2011 federal poverty guideline of $18,530 for a family of three.

Avakian said that, while five out of six Oregon employers don’t offer minimum-wage jobs, he knows it’s important to talk to the business owners who do, and understand their challenges.

Eugene restaurateur Ibrahim Hamide is one of those business owners. And, he said, he is going to feel the pinch of rising wages.

“In my case I tried not to ever pay (only) minimum wage — I’m a worker at heart, I empathized with the workers,” said Hamide, who owns Cafe Soriah and Cafe Zenon. “I vowed to never pay just minimum wage. And for years I could get away with it.”

Then came the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. “I was humbled,” said Hamide, who started paying only minimum wage for some jobs. “It’s the reality we all live in. I say to myself, ‘At least I’m giving them a meal. And everyone shares in tips, including the dishwasher.’ I’m trying to make myself feel better when I do have to pay minimum wage.”

Although he doesn’t begrudge workers a higher wage, it’s tough to find ways to make ends meet when costs go up, Hamide said.

And for small businesses that already are being pinched, the impact of any additional pinching can be immediate.

For some business owners, the higher minimum wage may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, he said.

“You don’t want to raise prices because you don’t want to alienate customers,” he said. “You want to make sure you’re competitive.

“There’s not much room to absorb (higher costs). It’s like a sponge that’s totally wet. You start trying to squeeze more out of yourself and your workers. You try to raise prices just a little bit, by 50 cents. There’s not much wiggle room. If you move to the left, you fall off. If you move to the right, you fall off.”

This is where his 40 years of experience and building a local reputation come in, Hamide said.

He said he hopes and believes that customers with a little money to spend will think of him and say, “For years he’s treated us fair. He’s a nice man, with good food. Let’s go there.”

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