Minimum Wage Workgroup Strikes Again

Associated Oregon Industries
Oregon’s largest business advocate

by Betsy Earls

After three meetings, a work group convened to discuss increasing the minimum wage is still gathering information and may have only one more meeting before the February 2016 Legislative Session. The work group, which is chaired by Senator Michael Dembrow (chair, Senate Workforce committee) and Representative Paul Holvey (chair, House Business and Labor committee), was formed in response to Speaker Kotek’s announcement that she plans to reintroduce minimum wage legislation in 2016.

After a kick-off meeting in which stakeholders went around the room describing their positions on an increase, the second meeting focused mainly on information presented by the Oregon Employment Department (OED) explaining the demographics of minimum wage earners in Oregon.

At the most recent meeting, the OED returned with a follow-up presentation focused on the demographics of wage earners making between minimum wage and $13.00 per hour.

The Department of Human Services wrapped up the meeting with information about how a worker’s pay increase impact his/her receipt of certain benefits such as TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families), SNAP (the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), ERDC (Employment Related Day Care), and TANF child care payments. The presentation was intended to illustrate the impact of the “benefits cliff”, which occurs when a worker’s income increases to the point that they are no longer eligible for certain benefits and must pay for those services.

However, the presentation made no allowance for the fact that a minimum wage increase would raise the cost of living. Rather, it simply showed that without other changes in the economic environment (e.g., increased costs for services such as day care due to an increased minimum wage), a worker receiving ongoing raises could eventually make enough money to overcome the benefits cliff. T

Despite all this information, the workgroup chairs have yet to lay out a plan for reaching agreement or compromise on the question of a minimum wage increase. Nevertheless, AOI will continue to participate to the fullest extent possible, and looks forward to a genuinely interactive discussion not just on raising the minimum wage, but on ways to increase job growth and economic security for all Oregonians.

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