New Minimum Wage Law a Good thing

By Peter Hall of Haines, Oregon. Peter is a former candidate for House District 60 and the current Co-vice Chair of Baker County Democrats.

Back in my first run for the State House in 2006, I proposed a flexible minimum wage that would be higher in urban areas where housing costs were high and lower in rural areas where housing costs were lower. These costs are so much lower that a wage of $12 an hour in Baker County would give one the same buying power as a wage of $16 an hour in Multnomah county. I pushed this during my last run in 2014 and bent the ear of House speaker Tina Kotek and others about my idea. It appears someone listened as I was surprised to find the bill introduced this session, and I was even more surprised when it passed.

Many liberals it seems were upset by the bill. I agree that it should have increased the wage in the Portland Metro area higher and faster, but not by much. Raising the minimum wage is a complicated thing, especially when it bumps up against other, naturally higher wage earners. It also can hurt areas that have chronic unemployment in the double digits, where it can discourage job growth if the wage is to high. There is a sweet spot for the minimum wage that captures and redistributes the wealth of the community without loss of jobs and, indeed can create jobs eventually. But this sweet spot is not the same everywhere. Communities with areas of high income are better able to absorb the changes and more problematic in areas of limited wealth

We also cannot expect the raise in wage as a panacea to greedy landlords taking advantage of a tight housing market. It could be that a higher wages could lead to another round of rent hikes as landlords try to soak up what they perceive as a windfall. This tight market and the low costs in other areas of Oregon also point to a need to get jobs out into those areas of the state that can absorb more people easily.

This new law has to be seen as one piece of what needs to be done to help working class Oregonians achieve a higher, and deserved, standard of living.

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