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Experts go head to head in minimum wage debate

Minimum Wage Debate

Minimum Wage Debate -

Panelists invited by the WPC Young Professionals @ UW debate the minumum wage issue on Wednesday night. 

Photo by Kaia D'Albora

Local and national experts discussed how raising the minimum wage in Washington state could affect college students and graduates in a debate at Kane Hall on Wednesday night.

The event was part of the Washington Policy Center’s (WPC) nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy research organization, 2014 statewide debate series. The event was hosted by the new student group WPC Young Professionals @ UW.

Panelists opposing the increase in minimum wage included Steve Hooper, president and CEO of Kigo Kitchen; state Rep. Matt Manweller (R-Ellensburg); and Stephen Moore, who serves on The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board.

On the other side of the debate, panelists arguing for the increase in minimum wage included Sarah Jane Glynn, economics fellow at the Center for American Progress; T. William Lester, assistant professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina; and Rep. Chris Reykdal (D-Tumwater).

Currently, Washington state has the highest minimum wage in the nation, set at $9.32 per hour. Spearheading the issue are Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, who both support raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. Gov. Jay Inslee announced in his January State of the State address that he supports increasing the statewide minimum wage by $1.50 to $2.50.

Dann Mead Smith, president of the WPC, said the majority of media discussions on the issue has been about how Seattle businesses and workers might be affected, but the media lack coverage on how it could affect college students and graduates.

“The purpose of bringing it to campus is to show how it’s going to impact this age demographic,” Smith said. “Folks in college and recent grads. It’s going to have a unique impact on them.”

Several pre-planned questions were given to the moderator and focused on this aspect of the issue.

Although the aim of the debate was on how raising the minimum wage would affect college students, there was an overwhelming focus on where the money would come from to pay the increased wages.

“If you give a dollar to someone you have to take it from someone,” Moore said.

Moore explained that if the minimum wage is raised to $15 an hour in Seattle, prices will rise and employers will have to cut back on workers.

“You’re going to chase low-income people out of the city by increasing the minimum wage,” Moore said.

The supporting side argued that raising the minimum wage would allow working college students to work fewer hours and be better able to afford their tuition costs. 

“Having a higher minimum wage does allow people to work and be in school,” Lester said.

Reykdal said it is important we pay attention to the rising cost of college tuition over time in relation to the minimum wage over time.

“Students are a part of the economy; low wage workers are a part of the economy,” Reykdal said.

A major point of disagreement among panelists was who exactly is truly affected by the minimum wage.

“In Washington state, 90 percent of minimum-wage earners are over age 18, half are over age 45, and one in five have a bachelor’s degree,” Glynn said.

Attendees included students, local small business workers, and activists working in campaigns related to the issue on both sides.

Stephen Price, a volunteer with the 15Now group that has been pushing for the raise in minimum wage to $15 per hour, said he attended because he wanted to hear what would be said on the issue.

“I think [the debate] confused the issue. It didn’t raise the fundamental questions of what do we want to do as a society,” Price said. “Do we want to have people living in poverty or don’t we?”

UW student Sean Zeenwic said he already had a side chosen before listening to the debate but that it did help to reinforce his views.

“It’s nice to hear from the people who’ve done the research on these things,” Zeenwic said.

Reach reporter Sasha Glenn at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @sashajomaro

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