$15-an-hour minimum wage: What's reasonable?

Seattle's move prompts debate on High Desert

$15/hr minimum wage - too high or reasonable for C.O.?

BEND, Ore. - The Seattle City Council made history when it passed a $15 an-hour minimum wage earlier this week.

In Oregon, the minimum wage sits at $9.10 since the first of this year. Many think that's not enough; others disagree.

"Things seem to be getting more expensive, and wages don't seem to add up with it," a Bend man said Tuesday.

Since the 1980s, wages for the lower and middle classes have barely kept up with inflation, while wages for top earners have risen dramatically.

Critics say raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would be the wrong way for Central Oregon to go.

"For Deschutes County or Bend, it makes absolutely no sense to me. It would put our businesses at a serious disadvantage," said Tom Carroll, an economics professor at COCC.

Seattle's mayor believes it isn't the new minimum wage that is threatening the economy.

"Income inequality is a growing crisis in this country.  It's decimating the middle class.  It threatens the American concept of opportunity," said Mayor Ed Murray.

Seattle is planning to implement the wage hike gradually over seven years.

While Australia has a $15-an-hour minimum wage, and their economy is thriving, small business owners on the High Desert are not convinced.

"In Central Oregon, we've had a rough few financial years. Things are just starting to turn around, and I think there are a lot of companies who are just holding on. I think it could be very detrimental for businesses in this town," said a small business owner from Bend.

Would a hike in the minimum wage help wage inequality?  Experts are concerned that a large wage hike could mean fewer jobs for less qualified workers.

"If they can't get in that first run and can't get that experience, then they're not going to get the $20 and $30 later in life," Carroll said. "I'm all in favor for minimum wage. When Oregon asked the voters to pass a minimum wage above the federal level, I voted yes. But the thing with minimum wage is, it has to be within a reasonable range."

Some of those making making $15 an hour now also think it would be unfair.

"I currently make $16 an hour, and I'm a wildland firefighter, and I risk my life. And I don't believe I should be paid the same as a person flipping burgers at McDonald's," said one Bend man.

Carroll said he believes there is a better way to close the inequality gap.

"The quick and easy solution, though we get a ton of fight on that, is to raise the tax rate on the wealthy," he said.

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