News Economic Justice

Oregon Senate Approves Highest State Minimum Wage in the Country

Nicole Knight Shine

The bill passed 16 to 12 following a marathon six-hour floor debate, with one Democrat joining Republican lawmakers in opposition.

The Oregon state senate on Thursday passed a watershed bill to make the state’s minimum wage the highest in the nation.

Senate Bill 1532, passed in the Democratic-led senate, would phase in a geographical, tiered system of minimum wage rates beginning July 1. The Portland metropolitan area would see minimum pay rise to $14.75 by 2022, with urban counties going to $13.50, and rural counties to $12.50.

The bill passed 16 to 12 following a marathon six-hour floor debate, with Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) joining Republican lawmakers in opposition, as the Oregonian reported.

“This measure strikes an important balance,” Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham) said in a statement emailed after the vote. “It provides a much-needed raise for hard-working Oregonians struggling to get by and the gradual six-year phase-in gives businesses more certainty about the future.”

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An Oregonian working full-time for today’s state minimum of $9.25 an hour earns $19,240 a year, leaving them unable to afford basic necessities, such as shelter, food, and transportation, advocates say.

About 6 percent of jobs in the state pay the current state minimum, according to the Oregon Employment Department. A legislative analysis indicates that a $13.50 hourly wage hike could cost about $1.1 million over two years, while a $15 per hour increase could cost an estimated $4.8 million over two years.

Supporters and critics disagree about the wage hike’s effect.

The advocacy group Our Oregon says research indicates that higher wages cut small business costs by reducing employee turnover and absenteeism, and boosting worker performance.

Oregon business groups opposed to wage hikes cite research suggesting the wage increase would eliminate 62,700 jobs, primarily in the state’s hospitality and agriculture industries.

The state Legislative Revenue Office (LRO) in 2014 estimated that lifting the minimum wage to $13.10 would cut the monthly income of a single parent of two by $30. This would happen because a higher wage would make some workers ineligible for federal assistance programs and state tax credits. The same report from the LRO noted that raising the minimum wage more, to $14.10 and beyond, would counteract that loss and result in greater monthly incomes than before. 

Competing state ballot measures are also seeking a $13.50 and $15 state minimum, as the Oregonian reported.

“We have heard story after story of low-wage workers doing work that needs to be done,” Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. “The people who do this work should be able to live their lives and provide for their families without resorting to charity or public assistance. They do not want to have to work two jobs or more to get by. They want to be able to make it on their own, performing the labor that we ask of them.”

The bill now heads to the house, where Democrats hold a 10-vote majority.

Jeff Anderson, secretary-treasurer of Local 555 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said in a statement that Oregon’s minimum wage hike mirrors a trend elsewhere, as the Associated Press reported.

“Cities up and down the West Coast already have $15 minimum wages on the books, and both Washington and California are considering ballot measures to raise the wage statewide to $13.50 or higher,” Anderson said.

The Los Angeles City Council in May 2015 agreed to lift the city’s minimum wage to $10.50 an hour by July 2016. Lawmakers in San Francisco and Seattle have passed a $15 hourly wage increase. New York’s governor pushed through a $15 minimum wage for state workers that takes effect at the end of 2018.

A study by the Economic Roundtable found that an increased wage would be exceedingly positive for Los Angeles.

“We found that a phased-in increase to $15.25 by 2019 will put $5.9 billion more into the pockets of 723,000 working people, which will generate $6.4 billion in increased sales,” wrote Yvonne Yen Liu, one of the group’s researchers.

More than 200 bills in 2015 called for increases to state or federal minimum wage, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Fourteen states began 2016 with a higher minimum wage, although the federal minimum wage remains $7.25 per hour.

Commentary Politics

In Mike Pence, Trump Would Find a Fellow Huckster

Jodi Jacobson

If Donald Trump is looking for someone who, like himself, has problems with the truth, isn't inclined to rely on facts, has little to no concern for the health and welfare of the poorest, doesn't understand health care, and bases his decisions on discriminatory beliefs, then Pence is his guy.

This week, GOP presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump is considering Mike Pence, among other possible contenders, to join his ticket as a vice presidential candidate.

In doing so, Trump would pick the “pro-life” governor of a state with one of the slowest rates of economic growth in the nation, and one of the most egregious records on public health, infant and child survival, and poverty in the country. He also would be choosing one of the GOP governors who has spent more time focused on policies to discriminate against women and girls, LGBTQ communities, and the poor than on addressing economic and health challenges in his state. Meanwhile, despite the evidence, Pence is a governor who seems to be perpetually in denial about the effects of his policies.

Let’s take the economy. From 2014 to 2015, Indiana’s economic growth lagged behind all but seven other states in the nation. During that period, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Indiana’s economy grew by just 0.4 percent, one-third the rate of growth in Illinois and slower than the economies of 43 other states. Per capita gross domestic product in the state ranked 37th among all states.

Income inequality has been a growing problem in the state. As the Indy Star reported, a 2014 report by the United States Conference of Mayors titled “Income and Wage Gaps Across the US” stated that “wage inequality grew twice as rapidly in the Indianapolis metro area as in the rest of the nation since the recession,” largely due to the fact “that jobs recovered in the U.S. since 2008 pay $14,000 less on average than the 8.7 million jobs lost since then.” In a letter to the editor of the Indy Star, Derek Thomas, senior policy analyst for the Indiana Institute for Working Families, cited findings from the Work and Poverty in Marion County report, which found that four out of five of the fastest-growing industries in the county pay at or below a self-sufficient wage for a family of three, and weekly wages had actually declined. “Each year that poverty increases, economic mobility—already a real challenge in Indy—becomes more of a statistical oddity for the affected families and future generations.”

In his letter, Thomas also pointed out:

[T]he minimum wage is less than half of what it takes for a single-mother with an infant to be economically self-sufficient; 47 percent of workers do not have access to a paid sick day from work; and 32 percent are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines ($29,685 for a family of three).

Despite the data and the struggles faced by real people across the state, Pence has consistently claimed the economy of the state is “booming,” and that the state “is strong and growing stronger,” according to the Northwest Indiana Times. When presented with data from various agencies, his spokespeople have dismissed them as “erroneous.” Not exactly a compelling rebuttal.

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As a “pro-life” governor, Pence presides over a state with one of the worst infant mortality rates in the nation. Data from the Indiana State Department of Health reveals a “significant disparity” between white and Black infant mortality rates, with Black infants 1.8 times more likely to die than their white counterparts. The 2013 Infant Mortality Summit also revealed that “[a]lmost one-third of pregnant women in Indiana don’t receive prenatal care in their first trimester; almost 17% of pregnant women are smokers, compared to the national rate of 9%; and the state ranks 8th in the number of obese citizens.”

Yet even while he bemoaned the situation, Pence presided over budget cuts to programs that support the health and well-being of pregnant women and infants. Under Pence, 65,000 people have been threatened with the loss of  food stamp benefits which, meager as they already are, are necessary to sustain the caloric and nutritional intake of families and children.

While he does not appear to be effectively managing the economy, Pence has shown a great proclivity to distract from real issues by focusing on passing laws and policies that discriminate against women and LGBTQ persons.

He has, for example, eagerly signed laws aimed at criminalizing abortion, forcing women to undergo unnecessary ultrasounds, banning coverage for abortion care in private insurance plans, and forcing doctors performing abortions to seek admitting privileges at hospitals (a requirement the Supreme Court recently struck down as medically unnecessary in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case). He signed a “religious freedom” law that would have legalized discrimination against LGBTQ persons and only “amended” it after a national outcry. Because Pence has guided public health policy based on his “conservative values,” rather than on evidence and best practices in public health, he presided over one of the fastest growing outbreaks of HIV infection in rural areas in the United States.

These facts are no surprise given that, as a U.S. Congressman, Pence “waged war” on Planned Parenthood. In 2000, he stated that Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexuals and advocated that funding for HIV prevention should be directed toward conversion therapy programs.

He also appears to share Trump’s hatred of and willingness to scapegoat immigrants and refugees. Pence was the first governor to refuse to allow Syrian refugees to relocate in his state. On November 16th 2015, he directed “all state agencies to suspend the resettlement of additional Syrian refugees in the state of Indiana,” sending a young family that had waited four years in refugee limbo to be resettled in the United States scrambling for another state to call home. That’s a pro-life position for you. To top it all off, Pence is a creationist, and is a climate change denier.

So if Donald Trump is looking for someone who, like himself, has problems with the truth, isn’t inclined to rely on facts, has little to no concern for the health and welfare of the poorest, doesn’t understand health care, and bases his decisions on discriminatory beliefs, then Pence is his guy.

News Politics

Democrats in Utah, Colorado Make History as First Openly Transgender Women to Win Congressional Primaries

Ally Boguhn

Though Misty Snow's win may be historic for LGBTQ equality, she has previously noted that it was not the reason she is running for office."I'm not running because I'm transgender. I just happen to be transgender," the Utah candidate said.

Voters in Utah and Colorado made history Tuesday after nominating Democrats Misty Snow and Misty Plowright to run for Congress in their respective states—making them the first openly transgender women to win a major party’s congressional primary nomination.

Misty Snow, according to the bio listed on her campaign’s website, is a 30-year-old grocery store cashier from Salt Lake County, Utah, “concerned by the degree of income inequality in this country: particularly how it disproportionately impacts women, people of color, and the LGBT community.” Among the many issues prioritized on her website are paid maternity leave, a $15 minimum wage, and anti-choice regulations that “restrict a woman’s right to having a safe and legal abortion as well as any attempts to undermine a woman’s access to important health services.”

Though her win may be historic for LGBTQ equality, she has previously noted that it was not the reason she is running for office. “I’m not running because I’m transgender. I just happen to be transgender,” she told the Salt Lake Tribune in May. In later statement to the publication, however, Snow acknowledged that “a lot of people have told me whether I win or lose, I’m already making a difference just by running.”

Snow ran opposite Democrat Jonathan Swinton in Utah, having filed to run for office just before the March 17 deadline. Snow decided to run after Swinton, who was running for the Democratic ticket unopposed, penned an op-ed in September arguing that Planned Parenthood should be investigated—though the government should not be shut down over it. After reading the op-ed and thinking it over for several months, Snow told the Tribune she began to think the people of Colorado deserved a more liberal option and thought, “Why not me?”

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Snow’s win means she will move on to run against incumbent conservative Sen. Mike Lee. As previously reported by Rewire, Lee is stringently anti-abortion and has consistently pushed measures “attempting to limit access to or outright ban abortion.”

Misty Plowright, who is running to represent Colorado’s 5th congressional district, describes herself as an “Army veteran, a self-educated woman, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and a passionate social democrat,” according to her campaign’s website. An IT worker from Colorado Springs, Plowright billed herself as the “anti-politician” during an interview with the Colorado Springs Gazette, and is running on a platform that includes campaign finance reform and defending voting rights.

Plowright will now challenge incumbent Rep. Doug Lamborn (R) for his seat in the House.

Plowright congratulated Snow in her win in a Wednesday post to her campaign’s Facebook page. “Congratulations from ‪#‎TeamMisty‬ to another progressive candidate in Utah, Misty K Snow,” wrote Plowright’s campaign. “Both women made history last night by winning their Democratic Primary.”

As Slate reported, though the candidates may have both won their primary races, “Snow and Plowright face uphill battles in the coming months”:

Despite a Gallup survey from March 2015 that calculated Salt Lake City’s LGBTQ population as the seventh-highest in the nation, Lee leads Snow 51 percent to 37 percent among likely general election voters according to a poll commissioned by the Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics in early June. And Lamborn, who has represented Colorado’s heavily conservative fifth district since 2007, took nearly 60 percent of the vote in his most recent reelection fight.