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The Seattle push to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour

In the Northwest, 7 of the 10 fastest growing jobs are in fields like fast food, retail and health care, according to the Economic Opportunity Institute. They believe giving minimum-wage workers $15 an hour would have economic benefits for everyone in the region. (AP file photo)

“I like what I do. I like it as much as I can,” says 23-year-old Amanda Larson who works on the other side of the counter at Arby’s asking if you’d like “any fries or Pepsi” with your order.

She’s part of a grassroots effort to increase the minimum wage from $9.19 per hour – the highest in the country – to $15 an hour.

Weeks after a fast food strike spread across the country, Larson and others will meet with Seattle City Council members to explain how increasing their pay would help the region’s economy.

“If we got paid more, then we’d be able to afford to go to school and get out of fast food,” Larson says.

“We’re asking for $15 because in order to support one person in a one bedroom apartment you need to make $14.88. We don’t make anywhere near that and we’re all on food stamps.”

Raising the minimum wage isn’t about making a group of workers feel better about themselves. Those behind the push say it’s good policy.

“Unemployment has dropped below 5 percent in the city of Seattle. It is a really good time to address these issues and raise wages across the board because that results in important local economic activity,” says John Burbank, with the Seattle-based Economic Opportunity Institute.

Paying an estimated one million workers in Washington a higher hourly rate would help everyone, he says, because those workers are more likely to spend their money at local businesses “creating more economic dynamism.”

In our region, seven of the 10 fastest growing jobs are in fields like fast food, retail and home health care.

The fast food industry alone is projected to create 10 times more jobs than aerospace engineering, according to the institute.

“If we want to have a sustainable quality of life in our state, then we need to pay low-wage workers more money,” Burbank says. “They’re more productive than they ever have been and yet that productivity isn’t ending up helping them with their incomes it’s going into corporate profits.”

“What profits?” says a small business owner in Ballard who didn’t want me to use his name.

“I’m barely getting by as it is and if I have to pay more, an extra $6 an hour, times 10 employees, times six days a week […] the bottom line is, forget it. I can’t afford that. I’ll have to close.”

By LINDA THOMAS

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