October 16, 2013 at 4:20 pm EDT | by Mark Lee
Reaching a reasonable D.C. minimum wage hike
Tommy Wells, gay news, Washington Blade, Democratic Party, D.C. Council, Ward 6

‘We’re going to get a minimum wage increase,’ D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) predicted in an interview last Friday.

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells is impatient to raise the local minimum wage. He hopes his colleagues will move quickly to enact an additional local hike above the national rate.

A hasty and haphazard decision, however, will harm those he hopes to help.

“We’re going to get a minimum wage increase,” Wells predicted in an interview last Friday. On that, there is little doubt – and scant opposition. Controversy centers on what constitutes a reasonable amount.

Wells indicated that he is not “wedded to a pride of ownership” on the issue. Regardless, his legislative proposal, one of three and enjoying the sponsorship of a majority of his colleagues, will likely be the framework for Council consideration.

Wells wants to raise the local rate by another dollar in each of the next two years, to a total of $10.25 beginning July 31, 2015. The current $8.25 is a dollar higher than the federal rate and in both neighboring Maryland and Virginia. Subsequent automatic annual increases would be tied to the higher “urban” Consumer Price Index. Wells also provides for a partially mitigating employer credit up to 25 percent of assessed property taxes for small businesses with annual gross revenues up to $2.5 million.

Wells has crafted an outline that, with modest downward revision in amount, a more measured implementation schedule and additional business offsets, merits approval. As offered, it would exceed the few elevated state rates nationwide, most by much.

Smarter in approach is that already initiated by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who advocates a “reasonable” minimum wage increase. Gray has launched an expedited yet thorough examination of the scope and impact of variable increases. D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser has introduced legislation to create a Minimum Wage Revision Commission comprised of stakeholders and economists to fully assess the implications.

The mayor is correct to have undertaken assemblage of facts to inform action. Otherwise the unintended consequences and counterproductive results of too high an increase, too rapid a schedule or insufficient business offsets are a risk. Likewise, Bowser’s instinct to know-before-voting is deserving of Council approval.

Only 0.005 percent of those employed at District jobs, or approximately 4,000 workers, are paid the hourly minimum. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, 12 percent of D.C. jobs are hourly compensated.

The D.C. Council has not identified the demographics, skills, occupations or industries of hourly-wage jobs or determined the range and prevailing hourly amount paid. Nor have they appraised the likely effects on employment or net wages and benefits, or other factors. They have not considered the impact that upward pressure on hourly wages for those currently paid above the minimum will have on net employment.

They’re flying blind.

Wells would also admirably increase personal income tax standard deductions, but in advance of Council review of tax reforms recommended by the D.C. Tax Revision Commission, chaired by former Mayor Anthony Williams. Again, he wants to drag the cart up ahead of the horse.

A city desperate for new entry-level jobs with unemployment near 9 percent that graduates only 60 percent of high school students cannot afford to endanger the creation and availability of low-skill modest-wage employment opportunities. More than 11,000 applied in the first week for 1,800 jobs at planned Walmart stores following recent defeat of a large retailer minimum wage mandate of $12.50 an hour.

A sensible minimum wage adjustment must factor prevailing wages for hourly workers to prevent potential job losses or a net reduction in employment. Too steep an increase will result in reluctance to hire or the retention of existing employees for maximum staffing flexibility with a roll-back in hours to manage rising costs, or a reduction in benefits – particularly at small businesses.

Broad agreement exists for a reasonable and responsible increase in the local minimum wage. The D.C. Council needs to steady the rush to passage to ensure that it is both.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

  • DC already has skyrocketing youth unemployment, because DC public schools do not leave its graduates – or the 40% of its students who drop out – with enough skills to earn them a $9-10 an hour job, the prevailing actual minimum wage in DC. Raising the minimum wage law to price them out of the market sure looks like a plan to drive black working class people out of DC – which expanding federal bureaucracies by hiring 6 figure bureaucrats, lawyers and lobbyists who have driven up rents and real estate prices has already done. I guess white "liberals" just want an almost all white city.

  • “Only 0.005 percent of those employed at District jobs, or approximately 4,000 workers, are paid the hourly minimum.”

    Who knew there were 80 million people working in the District?

  • Mark Lee (column author and Washington Blade contributing columnist)

    @KCIvey: Keith – The most recent annual report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that only 4,000 of the approximately 745,000 jobs located in the District are compensated at the current local minimum wage. (These figures are also utilized by D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells.) The resulting 0.005 ratio of workers paid at the District’s existing premium minimum wage is incorrectly displayed as a percentage due to a typographical error. The correct percentage is 0.5% of all workers. Apologies for the display error.

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