SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Minimum wage effort launched
By Sen. Kim Elton


February 03, 2008

Sometimes we mean well, but we mean well without oomph. So it is with the gap between the cost of living in Alaska and our stagnant Alaska minimum wage.

SB 187 is a modest and reasonable attempt to put some horsepower into our intentions to narrow the widening gap. (Full disclosure: I'm a co-prime sponsor of this bill with Sens. Bill Wielechowski and Joe Thomas.)

SB 187 takes Alaska's minimum wage from $7.15 an hour to $8 an hour in 2009 then adjusts the minimum wage annually for inflation in the out years. For many of us, this means nothing. But 14,000 of our Alaska neighbors will live slightly less close to the margin if we do what is right.

At $7.15 an hour, a worker earns less than the federal poverty level for a family of two. Many of these very low wage folks are sole wage earners and many are parents.

We don't have to be too intuitive to also understand the challenges for minimum wage workers in Alaska are greater than the challenges faced by most minimum wage earners elsewhere. Alaska and the other Pacific states are the most expensive areas to live in the nation (the South and Midwest are generally the least expensive). Reflecting the higher expenses in this region, Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii all have state minimum wage levels higher than Alaska's.

It's time for us to step up to catch up.

Hesitation to go higher with the minimum wage is mostly couched in terms of job loss--the suggestion some employers will reduce their work force if the minimum wage goes up. Research demonstrates that the economic impact of raising the minimum wage shows the positive effects without job loss.

In fact, over 650 economists, including six past presidents of the American Economics Association and five Nobel prize winners, recently signed on to a statement clearly saying that hiking federal or state minimum wages "can significantly improve the lives of low income workers and their families without the adverse (job loss) effects that critics have claimed." Their statement reflects the reality of what has happened elsewhere.

Other states that raised the minimum wage saw no adverse effects by doing the right thing. Instead, studies show higher wages lead to greater productivity, lower recruiting and training costs, less absenteeism, and better morale.

So it is time for us to also do the right thing, to return to the way we've done things in the past. Attached to this newsletter is a chart that clearly demonstrates we've failed to keep up with inflation, that Alaska's minimum wage earners are falling significantly behind. From statehood to the late 1960s, our minimum wage kept pace with or exceeded inflation. As seen in the chart, since 1968, our minimum wage (the black line) has failed to keep up with inflation (the pink line).

SB 187 is a long overdue attempt to begin closing the gap. This bill does not simply acknowledge that five percent of Alaska's workforce (and all the kids who depend on a parent's minimum wage check) face struggles most of us can't imagine; it does something about it.

About: Sen. Kim Elton is a member of the Alaska Legislature representing Juneau.

Received February 01, 2008 - Published February 03, 2008


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska