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Washington’s minimum wage to remain highest of any state at $9.19 an hour

The minimum wage in Washington will go up to $9.19 an hour on Jan. 1, keeping the state ahead of all others and nearly $2 above the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Idaho’s minimum wage will remain unchanged at $7.25 an hour, which is just over $15,000 a year for a full-time employee. It also falls within the federal definition of poverty for a two-person household.

The Washington wage, now $9.04, changes annually to keep pace with the rising cost of living. Voters in 1998 approved a ballot initiative that provides for the rate adjustments.

The wage bump will apply to an estimated 144,000 workers – many of them in retail, food service, hotel and health care jobs – providing them an extra $310 per year on average, according to the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute. Another 20,000 will see a raise as pay scales are adjusted upward, the Washington, D.C.-based group estimates.

Nine other states – Montana, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona, Ohio, Missouri, Florida, Rhode Island and Vermont – also raise minimum wage rates on New Year’s Day.

Most of the new rates will remain under $8, including $7.80 in Montana. Vermont’s wage will increase to $8.60 and Oregon’s will go to $8.95 an hour.

As of Jan. 1, 19 states and the District of Columbia will have minimum wage rates above the federal level. A few cities also set minimum wages: San Francisco’s rates will rise to $10.55 an hour on Jan. 1.

The federal minimum wage has remained unchanged since 2009. It is not indexed to rise with inflation, so Congress must vote to change it.

Democrats in the House and Senate plan to reintroduce legislation in 2013 to raise the federal wage to $9.80 over two years as well as bump up the $2.13 minimum wage for tipped workers for the first time since 1991. The goal is to raise the tipped worker rate gradually until it reaches 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.

Republicans in Congress are expected to resist the proposals. Opponents say raising the minimum wage hurts the economy because employers react by cutting jobs, reducing worker hours and hiring fewer employees. Some argue that young, low-income minorities are hit hardest by these actions.

Supporters of higher minimum wages say the increased spending power of low-wage workers provides an economic boost. In Washington, the higher rate in 2013 will boost the state’s gross domestic product by $29 million, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.

Scott Maben
Scott Maben joined The Spokesman-Review in 2006. He currently is the Business Editor.

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