As the D.C. Council considers legislation by Mayor Muriel Bowser that would raise the District’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020, a new report on a proposed ballot intiative seeking to do the same finds that the latter would increase wages for approximately 114,000 working people in the city.
The Economic Policy Institute says in a study released on Wednesday that those 114,000 represent about 14 percent of all D.C. workers and more than a fifth of its private-sector and nonprofit workers. Advocates have until July to collect more than 20,000 signatures in order for the measure to appear on the November ballot. Affected workers, EPI concludes, would receive $329 million in extra wages.
“Once the minimum wage reaches $15, the average affected worker would earn roughly $2,900 more annually than she would under the District’s current minimum-wage law (assuming no change in work hours),” the report finds. “The workers who would benefit (either directly or indirectly) from the higher minimum wage are overwhelmingly adult workers, most of whom come from families of modest means, and many of whom are supporting families of their own.”
David Cooper, a senior economic analyst for EPI, notes that under current law, the minimum wage will only rise to around $12.50 by 2020, so the $15-an-hour minimum would constitute a 20 percent increase over that. Demographically, almost 98 percent of those who would see their wages go up from the ballot measure would be older than 20, Cooper added, with three-quarters of them 25 or older. The majority would be women and approximately 80 percent would be people of color, he said. The report relied on 2014 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (the authors cite a detailed methodology used in a previous study on New York’s minimum-wage boost).
Still, a key difference between Bowser’s legislation and the ballot initiative is the issue of tipped workers like restaurant servers. Bowser’s bill, as introduced, would gradually raise the tipped-minimum wage to $7.50 an hour by 2022, whereas the ballot intiative would increase the tipped-minimum wage to equal the general minimum wage by 2025, thus getting rid of the separate system.
“It’s important to point out that eliminating the tipped minimum wage is not some radical new idea,” Cooper said. “There are eight states that have already [done so]” and across the U.S., tipped workers experience poverty at more than twice the rate of non-tipped workers. This isn’t the case everywhere:
The report also found that raising the minimum to $15-an-hour by 2020 would help those in poverty:
Laura Huizar, a staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project, points out that four states (Colorado, Maine, Washington, and Arizona) could see similar minimum-wage ballot initiatives this fall. Advocates in Maine also hope to eventually void the tipped-minimum system, she said. Citing past research, Huizar argued that states can up the minimum “without a discernable impact” on jobs.
Whether the benefits the report outlines ultimately materialize hinges on whether advocates can collect the signatures necessary under District law for the measure to appear on the November ballot.
“We’re well on our way to getting that number,” Delvone Michael, executive director of DC Working Families, said. “We’re approaching 20,000 raw signatures” based on preliminary counts.
You can read the full report here.
Illustration by Lauren Heneghan; screenshots via report