Minimum Wage Increase: Reforming the System to Reconcile State-Wide Divisions


By Haitham Al Mhana

Last November, Initiative 1433, which would increase Washington's minimum wage by four dollars an hour, passed even though voters in 25 of the state's 39 counties voted against it. The majority of Washington's residents live in King County, where Seattle is located. This is only the latest example of how divided the state is politically and economically. The current voting system needs to be reformed because it does not put said divisions into account and gives Western Washington an unfair advantage in determining state policies and economic matters. Local government on the city and county levels should have the last say on major matters like this.

Eastern Washington is a mostly rural area and the economy relies on farming, agriculture, and - to a certain degree - the services industry. Moreover, governmental regulations are comparatively minimal. For example, property taxes, environmental regulations and - even with the recent hike - the minimum wage across the state remains lower than that in Seattle. Consequently, businesses incur lesser expenses and consumers' cost of living is lower than in Seattle. A higher minimum wage, however, disrupts because it means overall prices will go up and people will lose their jobs as enterprises will want to cut down on costs.

On the other side of the Cascades, the story is completely different. In the greater Seattle area, the government heavily regulates the economy and the minimum wage in the Emerald City is $15 per hour. In turn, businesses have to make up for the costs of compliance by increasing their prices. This includes restaurants, landlords, service providers, and others. It should be no surprise that the people in Seattle feel like prices are unaffordable. While increasing the minimum wage will only make the problem worse, the concerns of Western Washington are not echoed by the rest of the state and, therefore, Western Washington voters' say should not determine policies for other cities and towns.

What makes the problem worse is that the wage hike will not affect Seattle. Considering that the wage in the city is already at $15 per hour, raising it to $13.50 statewide will not change anything for Seattle consumers. Instead of having a system that centers all the power in a large city, certain powers should be left on the local level; counties and cities should have the last say on major economic and political matters. Moreover, not only do locally elected officials - who are also residents of the constituency they govern - understand the needs of their own community better; they are also more accessible to voters. A farm worker in Eastern Washington can access their local representatives and the ballot lets them choose policymakers. However, they cannot access Seattle voters and they have minimal influence over policy matters that they support.

I am a strong believer that working class Washingtonians deserve to be paid a wage that covers their basic expenses and that the economy should be thriving in a manner that benefits everyone. This is why I think locals should have the ultimate say on policies that affect their economic climate and their ability to meet their financial needs. Eastern Washington residents need to become more politically active, support candidates that will fight for giving them a fair say in governing their own regions and vote in this November's local elections so that their voices are heard.