One of the hottest political topics of the year is the growing income gap, and how American workers are falling further behind in earning a living wage. Perhaps the most contentious income issue is raising the minimum wage, which by any standard, is not providing workers with the income they need without outside assistance. Federal programs such as SNAP and TANF help subsidize millions of underpaid working people all across the United States.
Meanwhile, CEO’s and others at the top of the business chain are exponentially earning more and more while their workers’ pay continues to erode. In lieu of fair wages, our tax dollars provide a much-needed safety net. However, this ongoing trend has reached intolerable proportions in many American communities, and one Seattle suburb is showing us a way out.
Sea-Tac, Washington is the home of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which employs over 6,000 workers. Most of them are baggage handlers, jet fuelers, building maintenance workers, and cabin cleaners. They often rely on food stamps to feed their families, which frees up what little they earn for bills and rent. Sea-Tac shares the same income inequality problems as most anywhere else. 31% of their children live in poverty. The cost of living in the region is high, making expenses hard even in the poorest neighborhoods. So Sea-Tac decided enough was enough, and put an airport workers minimum wage initiative on the ballot, which citizens voted to approve last night.
Proposition 1 gives Sea-Tac employees a $15.00 minimum wage, allows them to keep their tips, and provides for paid sick days. These are benefits many higher-wage workers take for granted, but they are exceedingly rare for lower-income employees. This is the kind of trickle-up stimulus the local economy needs. More money earned means more to spend, more to save and less reliance on subsidy programs.
The ripple effect doesn’t stop there. A study estimated that $54 million in economic activity will stimulate new jobs and growth, increasing the Sea-Tac region’s full-time workforce. In the shadow of troubled times, this is the kind of light that hard-working Americans need, increasing not only their income, but their opportunities. If the middle class is to be re-built, it needs to start at the bottom, with a living minimum wage. The people of Sea-Tac bringing living wages to the ballot box assures us that democracy can indeed serve the best interests of the people who maintain it.
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