Oregon's minimum wage will increase by a dime on Jan. 1, 2011. The weeping and wailing from Oregon businesses, conservative politicians and right-wing think tanks will commence well before then.
Eight years ago Oregon voters approved Measure 25, which provided that the state minimum wage must be adjusted annually for inflation. Because prices were virtually flat in 2008, the minimum stayed at $8.40 an hour through 2009. But there's been a 1.15% increase in the Consumer Price Index since August, so the minimum will rise to $8.50 in 2011.
A 10-cent raise will not drive employers into poverty. It adds up to only $4 per week or $208 per year - assuming a 40-hour week and 52 weeks of employment a year, which many minimum-wage workers don't get.
But a 10-cent raise could make life a little more livable for the minimum-wage worker who gets it. Four bucks a week can pay for a couple of gallons of gas or a couple more quarts of milk. It could make the difference between being able to pay the electric bill and having the lights turned off.
From the standpoint of boosting Oregon's economy, raising the minimum wage is a winning proposition. The state's 121,000 minimum-wage workers are not going to be socking their extra $208 a year away in offshore bank accounts or buying Italian sports cars and tailor-made Savile Row suits. They'll be spending it right here in Oregon, helping to support businesses in their own communities.
For those who belong to the Trickle-Down School of Economics, of course, a higher minimum wage - in fact, any minimum wage at all - is poison. It supposedly forces businesses to lay off workers or refrain from hiring more workers, thus driving unemployment up. For instance, Republican governor candidate Chris Dudley, while not specifically attacking the coming 10-cent increase, said at a campaign appearance that "having the highest minimum wage in the country negatively impacts the state" and expressed support for allowing a "training wage" - a sub-minimum wage for workers who supposedly are "in training."
Aside from getting a basic fact wrong (Oregon's minimum wage is the second-highest, behind Washington's) the trouble with Dudley's way of thinking is there's little empirical evidence that raising the minimum wage actually causes job losses. In fact, some studies of the federal minimum wage indicate that raising it has led to job gains, due to the "trickle-up" effect of putting more money in the pockets of people who will spend it.
And those who believe a high minimum wage hurts a state's economy might want to explain why the five states with no state minimum at all - Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana - are chronically among the poorest in the country.
Nothing we can say here is going to change the minds of those who are dogmatically opposed to the minimum wage. But we're tired of hearing them whining and predicting economic ruin every time a modest increase in the minimum goes through, so we're giving them THE BOOT for our own personal satisfaction.