New year, new wages

The Portland Observer Minimum wage employee Linda Phan, who works at the 76 Food Mart in northeast Portland, is happy about the increase to her wages this year, but the new $8.80 an hour rate she receives is still not enough to make ends meet in such an expensive economy.

Minimum wage employee Linda Phan, who works at the 76 Food Mart in northeast Portland, is happy about the increase to her wages this year, but the new $8.80 an hour rate she receives is still not enough to make ends meet in such an expensive economy.

January 4, 2012

Higher minimum benefits thousands

Beginning with the New Year, more than 100,000 of Oregon's lowest paid workers are getting 30-cents an hour more in their pay thanks to a cost-of-living Oregon Minimum Wage increase.

The increase from $8.50 to $8.80, which went into effect on Jan. 1, means an extra $624 a year for a family with one full-time minimum wage worker.

"A strong minimum wage is good for workers and good for Oregon's economy," said Chuck Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. "It helps the lowest-paid workers make ends meet, and it helps the economy when the workers spend those extra dollars in local businesses."

The wage increase is the result of a ballot measure approved by voters in 2002 that compensates for increases in the cost of living as defined by the Consumer Price Index, which rose 3.6 percent last year.

”The increase reflects the fact that costs have risen, and allows minimum wage workers to maintain much of their purchasing power,” said Sheketoff.

The Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute estimated that an additional 19,000 Oregon workers currently earning just above the new minimum wage will also see their paychecks increase as employers adjust their overall pay structures to reflect the new minimum wage.

The manager of a local Popeye's said the changes are automated through the company's payroll department, and will help employees "pay their bills."

Other entrepreneurs and minimum wage workers said the amount wasn’t enough to make ends meet.

Linda Phan, who works at the 76 Food Mart in northeast Portland, where every worker receives the minimum, said the increase was still not enough to make ends meet.

"I have to find a way to make due and cancel the unnecessary," she said.

Owner Jin Ryu of Js Food Mart at 33rd and Killingsworth said a bad economy was making it tough financially for everyone.

Although the 30 cent increase to employee’s wages weren’t mandatory under law until the New Year started, Ryu said he adjusted his employee’s paychecks a couple of months ago when the announcement of the increase became known.

"I want my employees to be happy, which benefits me as well,” he said. "I try to be over, not less, than the minimum wage. The economy is getting worse."

According to OCPP, Oregon's minimum wage has yet to recover its purchasing power peak of 35-years-ago.

In 2011 dollars, Oregon's minimum wage reached $9.09 in 1976, almost 60 cents per hour higher than the current minimum wage.

Oregon’s minimum wage, however, is the second highest in the nation, trailing only to Washington, which saw its minimum hourly wage rise to $9.04 this year.

"Oregon is the second highest in the nation, but that doesn't mean the minimum wage policy is good or bad," said Ryu.

Eddie De Leon, 23, has received a minimum wage from the 76 Food Mart located at Northeast Killingsworth and Martin Luther King Boulevard as a gas attendant for two-years now.

Although the changes will make everyday expenses more reasonable, he said, "Minimum wage is okay for me."

"A growing body of research supports the view of increases in the minimum wage as an economic boost that does not dampen job creation or raise costs to consumers," Sheketoff said. "The $624 in additional pay for a full-time worker is modest and predictable."

De Leon added, however, with unemployment high, he is simply thankful to have a job at the beginning of this New Year.

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