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Washington’s minimum wage falls short, report says

Isaiah Day, a Spokane restaurant worker, was featured in a recent report on the need for living wages. (Colin Mulvany)
Isaiah Day, a Spokane restaurant worker, was featured in a recent report on the need for living wages. (Colin Mulvany)

A single, unmarried worker in Washington state needs a wage of $16.13 an hour to make ends meet, according to an organization that studies the so-called living wage level around the country.

Two adults who have two children would need to earn $29.42 an hour, according to a report from the Alliance for a Just Society.

The alliance is a coalition of eight state-based community organizations, including the Washington Community Action Network.

It has issued its annual Job Gap Report on the living wage for the past 14 years.

The latest report, from February, features two Spokane workers who are struggling to make ends meet.

One of them is Isaiah Day, a 23-year-old cook at a downtown chain restaurant who works part time for $10.25 an hour, which is above Washington’s minimum hourly wage of $9.19. Washington has the highest minimum wage in the country.

Earning that kind of money “definitely isn’t enough to do all of the things I want to do,” Day said. He’d like to go to college or find a job that pays better, he said.

He earned just $13,500 in 2012, partly because he didn’t have his job for the full year. He’s been promoted from dishwasher to cook, which should mean a small salary increase, he said.

Day said he lives with a roommate and pays $250 rent. He doesn’t own a car and walks more than a mile to work. He has no health insurance. But he gets a free meal during his shift and sometimes gets to take home leftovers.

Day wants the government to do a better job of protecting the poor and working class and has been involved in the Washington Community Action Network, an organization that champions issues including affordable health care and economic justice.

Living wages
A report by the Alliance for Justice lists what it calls living wages for several states based on how much it took to support basic household needs in 2012.

Gail Hammer, an assistant professor at Gonzaga University School of Law who specializes in poverty and family law, said the minimum wage would be close to $16 if it had been allowed to rise with inflation over the years.

People working for less often struggle with housing, health care, food, transportation and even legal problems, she said. Low-income workers may develop an attitude that the system isn’t fair, which undermines social structure.

“I don’t think keeping people in poverty makes any sense at all,” Hammer said.

The report says many families “are forced to make difficult tradeoffs, often forgoing one basic necessity in order to meet another.”

It calls for a higher minimum wage nationwide and a strengthening of safety-net programs such as Medicaid health care and tax credits for low-income workers. The report also suggests a national tax on financial transactions to help pay for programs to support low-income workers.

President Barack Obama has called for a $9 federal minimum wage, while Democrats in Congress say it should be raised to $10 an hour from the current $7.25.

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