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Could minimum wage draw people away from panhandling?

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

The City of Lakewood has decided to curb panhandling with a new campaign. The city is now posting signs that state: “Keep The Change — Say No To Panhandling — Contribute To The Solution — Give To Local Charities.”

RELATED: How do you define “aggressive” when asking strangers for money?

The practice of panhandling has been found to be protected by the right to free speech. Which is why some cities, like Lakewood, resort to hanging discouraging signs. But could there be another way to draw people off of the streets?

“This is controversial,” said Tom Tangney with KIRO Radio’s Tom and Curley Show. “A lot of people think it’s great, that we shouldn’t be encouraging panhandling. Others think that the way they put up these signs suggests that if you give money to panhandlers you might be encouraging somebody’s alcohol or drug addiction. Or you might be encouraging somebody’s fakery – some of these guys claiming to be vets, might be fake vets.”

“It does kind of stigmatize anybody out there panhandling, and encourages the public to not trust you,” he added.

Panhandling and minimum wage

Controversy aside, Curley has two experiences offering a perspective on panhandling.

The first experience comes from author David Spears who wrote “Exit Ramp: A Short Case Study on the Profitability of Panhandling.” Spears spent 12 days panhandling near Portland, Oregon. He received donations ranging from 4 cents to $100, not to mention bottles of water, beef jerky, and gift cards. He was surprised at the amount of generosity he received.

Spears found that he earned $24.63 an hour on a good day. He took in $11.10 an hour on a bad day, which was still better than Oregon’s minimum wage at the time. This begs the question: If minimum wage was more than panhandling, would that deter the practice? Seattle and neighboring cities have passed a $15 minimum wage. Could that attract panhandlers into a job? Of course, that depends on your perspective of a job.

Which brings us to Curley’s second experience. He sometimes brings his kids to volunteer serving food at the Union Gospel Mission. He ended up chatting with a woman during one visit.

“The lady said, ‘It’s really, really hard work being a panhandler, standing out there,'” Curley recalled. “‘Because it’s very, very cold and your feet get really hurt, you’re standing for a long time, you get swollen ankles. It’s a tough job.'” I said, ‘So it’s a job?’ And she said, ‘yes.’ She would do like six hours and it was really hard on you.”

“I thought, ‘Why not go get a job?’ It would seem to be easier. But she saw it as her job. It was her job to work that corner and get that money.”

“The beauty of it is you set your own hours and it’s all tax free,” Curley said.

Could increasing the minimum wage serve as an attraction to draw people away from panhandling in the cold?

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