Questions for Those Who Oppose Raising the Minimum Wage

Chuck Sheketoff

Tomorrow’s Friday Forum at the City Club of Portland should be a great one, revolving around the club’s recently released report Portland Needs a Higher Minimum Wage (PDF).

The report, the product of a six-month investigation by the club’s research committee, rightly concludes that Portland needs a higher minimum wage and that the legislature ought to remove the law that preempts the city from lifting the wage floor above the statewide minimum. " The study also found that a “report by the Oregon Center for Public Policy effectively refutes the” canard that minimum wage increases will be mostly offset by loss of public benefits.

I won’t be surprised if at tomorrow’s Forum opponents issue the familiar “the-sky-will-fall for small businesses” type objections to raising the minimum wage, either locally or statewide. When they do, I hope panelists and City Club members asking questions will challenge the naysayers and educate the audience.

The last time that the legislature raised the minimum wage was in 1989. The increase enacted then upped the minimum wage by 42 percent over less than a two-year period.

That increase was in the same ballpark as what’s being discussed now. For instance, raising the minimum wage to $13.50 (by January 2018 or 2019 according to filed proposals) would amount to a 46 percent increase. In other words, what’s being discussed now is not new. We did it before, and the Oregon economy kept cruising along.

I want to know from the naysayers, ”How do you explain that Oregon’s economy has in the past absorbed a minimum wage increase of a magnitude similar to what is being discussed right now?”

I want to know from small business naysayers, ”How did your small business weather the 1989 increase? Tell us what worked.”

Following the 42 percent minimum wage increase fully phased in in 1991, small businesses experienced nearly a decade of uninterrupted growth. The small business sector found a way to adjust to that increase and others with no apparent impact.

I want to know from the naysayers, “How do you explain that past minimum wage increases have not dented small business growth in our state?”

We can and should learn from history. Our economy in general and small businesses in particular have not only weathered similar increases, they have flourished. I hope we learn how that happened at tomorrow’s Friday Forum to allay the concerns of opponents.

Oregon Center for Public PolicyChuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at

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