Oregon’s minimum wage will inch up 15 cents to $9.25 an hour in the new year. The modest increase arrives on the eve of a legislative session expected to include debate on whether to raise the state’s minimum wage high enough so that working families can make ends meet.
The January 1 increase is the result of a ballot measure enacted by voters in 2002 tying the minimum wage to inflation. The change means an extra $26 per month for a full-time worker earning the minimum.
“Though the 15 cent increase will help, the minimum wage remains too low for working families to make ends meet,” said Tyler Mac Innis, a policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy. “A parent who works full time should be able to cover his or her family’s basic needs.”
The Center’s research shows that seven out of ten Oregon families living in poverty in 2013 had at least one parent who worked. One in five families with children had at least one parent who worked full time.
“Too many working families are poor, even with the poverty line set too low,” said Mac Innis. “There are plenty of families above the poverty line also struggling to make end meet.”
The Center expects the Oregon legislature to consider raising the minimum wage during the 2015 session. Already, at least 10 lawmakers have come out in favor of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Contrary to the claims of critics, increases to the minimum wage over the years have had little or no impact on job growth, Mac Innis said.
“The minimum wage has been well studied by economists, and most have found little or no effect on job growth,” the analyst said. “The facts speak loudly on this point.”
Mac Innis cited the example of the Oregon restaurant industry, which employs a large share of Oregon’s minimum wage workers. In 2013, restaurants and bars employed more Oregonians than any other industry in the private sector, while paying less than all but one other industry.
Though Oregon’s minimum wage is one of the highest in the nation, the restaurant industry’s own national association projected healthy employment growth in Oregon this year.
A higher minimum wage can benefit local businesses because workers are also consumers, Mac Innis said. He explained that low-wage working families typically spend their earnings immediately to meet their basic needs — rent, food, car repairs and the like.
“In the upcoming session Oregon lawmakers will have a chance to make the economy work better for everyone, not just for those at the top,” said Mac Innis. “Oregonians will be looking to their legislators to raise the minimum wage so work enables families to make ends meet.”
The Oregon Center for Public Policy is a non-partisan, non-profit institute that does in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax and economic issues. The Center’s goal is to improve decision making and generate more opportunities for all Oregonians.