Here’s one more arena in which Cascadia is proving its leadership: the minimum wage. Washington and Oregon have the highest and second-highest minimum wages in the United States, respectively. Workers in Oregon, where the minimum wage was increased today, are guaranteed at least $7.25 an hour, a dime less than their neighbors to the north. The federal minimum wage, by contrast, is set at a paltry $5.15 per hour.
Establishing a wage floor is an important way that governments can help lower-income workers and their families avoid the pitfalls of poverty and enjoy a measure of self-sufficiency. Because poverty is associated with an array of social ills—from teenage pregnancy to poor educational outcomes to increased rates of crime and delinquency—we all have an interest in broadly shared economic security.
Some argue that high minium wages mean high unemployment too. But there’s little convincing evidence to support this claim. David Cooke, a labor economist for the state of Oregon says that wages and employment are a "very complex" issue and there’s no obvious relationship between them. (See this post for more on the topic.) In fact, Washington’s unemployment rate has plummeted dramatically in recent months, despite its highest-in-the-nation minimum wage. The same thing happened in California, which also guarantees its workers a higher wage than the federal minimum.