Governor Brown Proposes to Raise the Minimum Wage to “Poverty Wages Indefinitely”

Nicholas Caleb

In a seemingly cynical attempt to trick the public into thinking the state might actually help low-wage workers out of poverty, Governor Kate Brown has slapped the popular number $15 on her new proposal to raise the minimum wage statewide. Her proposal would establish a wage of $15.52/hr in the Portland area and $13.50/hr in the rest of the state. It sounds terrifically progressive in the headlines… until you learn that the wage increase will take place over six years and leave intact the state preemption against communities setting minimum wages at levels they think are appropriate. This means keeping low-wage workers in an indefinite state of poverty while positioning the State of Oregon as a shield between business interests who prefer not to pay living wages and a growing mass that desperately needs a raise just to get by.

$15 Now! was never an arbitrary demand. As $15 Now PDX correctly pointed out earlier today: 

The Alliance for a Just Society already places the self-sufficiency wage for the entire state, including rural Oregon, at $15.99 per hour. According to a 2014 Oregon Department of Human Services study conducted by Oregon State University, the hourly wage needed for a single parent with one child to be able to afford fair market rate, small home-based childcare without being cost burdened is $15 per hour or more in all but four of Oregon’s counties.
Obviously, the amount of $ needed for self-sufficiency is going to keep increasing into 2022 and by a sizable amount if cost of living trends continue -- especially with housing costs going through the roof.

Not only is the governor’s proposal woefully inadequate in terms of providing immediate relief to working Oregonians, it ignores the possibility of lifting the state preemption on local governments to allow them to set their own minimum wages. Both Governor Brown and the business community know that Portland (and potentially other local governments) would immediately jump on an opportunity to raise the minimum wage locally. Rather than let communities decide if they want to mandate living wages, we get a proposal that attempts to take advantage of the $15/hr brand in the headlines, but delivers far less.

$15 Now’s ballot initiative ($15/hr by 2019) is already a compromise for providing people with what they immediately need to get out of poverty. The Raise the Wage campaign (around $13.50 over several years while lifting the state preemption) compromises even more. Kate Brown’s proposal barely even registers as a compromise considering the context of the wage debate over the last two years. Instead, her proposal is capitulation: Brown and her people realize that, politically, something has to be done on wages, but don’t have the desire or political will to advocate for a strong proposal that could lift low-wage workers out of poverty. Instead, they attempt to co-opt the brand of $15/hr minimum wage while avoiding the substance and perceived political costs of a larger wage hike.

It’s not progressive. It’s not enough. It’s not right.

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