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Seattle now has highest minimum wage of any major city in the United States

Published on January 9, 2024

As of Jan. 1, Seattle hiked its minimum wage to $19.97 an hour for workers at larger companies like Starbucks. That’s the highest minimum wage of any major city in the U.S.

Former labor leader David Rolf, who drove the original push for a higher minimum wage law in Seattle and SeaTac around a decade ago, said the boost for low-income, non-union workers is badly needed given the “hollowing out of the middle class.”

“The majority of Americans no longer participate in the great American Dream of financial self-sufficiency, hard work, education, home ownership, and leaving your kids a better economic life than the one your parents left you. That is largely now in our rearview mirror,” Rolf said.

The new Seattle minimum works out to over $40,000 a year. That’s still not enough to meet the actual cost of living in Seattle, Rolf said. The city’s median rent is now around $2,000 a month.

“According to the Massachusetts Institute for Technology’s living wage calculator, a single adult living alone in metropolitan Seattle would need $21.48 per hour for the basics, and a single adult with one child living alone would need $41.22,” Rolf said.

Down in Tukwila, wages are headed even higher. As of Jan. 1, large employers there will need to pay at least $20.29 an hour, which is the highest of any city in the United States. Washington’s minimum will also be the highest of any state, at $16.28 an hour.

Critics of the region’s ambitious minimum wage hikes include Paul Guppy at the nonprofit Washington Policy Center, a conservative think tank. Guppy said he believes higher government-mandated minimums will favor low-wage workers with more experience and squeeze out some entry-level workers who are “trying to get their foot in the door.”

Studies of Seattle’s minimum wage have been somewhat mixed. University of Washington researchers found that non-skilled workers may be seeing fewer hours. But a Berkeley study found employers did not cut jobs to deal with their increased costs in Seattle or other cities that have raised the minimum wage.

Original story by David Hyde for KUOW

How will a higher minimum wage impact Seattle's urban center? The new per-hour minimum of $19.97, the highest rate in the US, still won't cover the cost of living for a single adult.
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