Two weeks ago, the Oregonian published an editorial by Dave Lister - in which he slammed Oregon's minimum wage.
Minimum-wage jobs in the past were available for students who were interested in making some money to help with their expenses, or for stay-at-home moms who wanted to supplement the family budget by working a few hours a day while the kids were at school. Minimum-wage jobs were the conduit for young people just entering the work force. Through such jobs, they could gain experience and expand their resume. And the employer offering the jobs wasn't subjected to great risk in the case of an employee who didn't work out.
Is it really realistic to pay a high-schooler scooping ice cream or a sign twirler outside of the local mattress emporium $8.40 per hour?
On Monday, Senator-elect Diane Rosenbaum (D-Portland) responded with an editorial published on the Oregonian's blog. Rosenbaum was the chief petitioner on Measure 25 in 2002, which established the inflation-adjusted minimum wage in Oregon.
Lister's piece is filled with factual errors and anecdotal myths as he tries to prove the case that Oregon's minimum wage -- approved by voters in 2002 to adjust annually for increases in the cost of living -- has been a drain on Oregon's economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. ...
Perhaps Lister's most egregious error is his stereotype of minimum-wage workers. It must have been in the 1960s when Lister last entered a fast food restaurant if he thinks minimum-wage jobs are filled by "stay-at-home moms" or "a high-schooler scooping ice cream."
Stay-at-home moms and teenagers? There are 143,000 Oregonians working at minimum wage jobs who are struggling to support themselves and their families. It's true that 59 percent of these workers are women, 79 percent are adults, and that many have children. Today's mom is an equal partner in paying the bills, often working multiple minimum-wage jobs to make ends meet. Those wages are going right into the family coffers to pay for food, medicine, rent and utilities.
Especially in these tough times, minimum-wage jobs are the backbone of our economy. These workers represent 7.5 percent of Oregon's workforce, and they perform some of the most difficult and important jobs in Oregon. In addition to growing and serving our food, they also care for our kids in child care centers and our elderly parents in nursing homes.
As Rosenbaum notes, Oregon's minimum wage is hardly generous:
Lister is right about one thing, though. The minimum wage is not a living wage. Even with the increase in January, a full-time worker at minimum wage will earn only $336 a week -- that's barely $1,400 a month before taxes. That's hardly a living wage and barely a subsistence wage in today's economy. Yet 143,000 hard-working Oregonians are trying to support themselves and their families on this amount.
Oregon voters were right when they adopted this sensible economic strategy. Nine other states have followed our example and passed laws that provide annual cost-of-living adjustments, including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Vermont and Washington. We should take pride in our minimum-wage law that stands for the principle that no one who works full time should be forced to live in poverty.