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Originally published Tuesday, May 27, 2014 at 5:40 PM

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Editorial: In $15 minimum wage debate, compromise for a teen wage

The Seattle City Council should allow sub-minimum wages for teens and trainees.


Seattle Times Editorial

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THE comedian Louis C.K. has a brilliant rant about an airline passenger who bemoans problems with in-flight Internet. As Louis C.K. said, grumping about the airline Wi-Fi ignores the miracle of flight itself. “Everyone on every plane should just constantly be going, ‘Oh my God! Wow!’ You’re flying! You’re sitting in a chair, in the sky!”

Advocates pushing for a $15 minimum-wage are at a similar moment. The Seattle City Council, with backing from Mayor Ed Murray, is racing toward a radical economic policy that would have been unthinkable even a year ago.

Yet Councilmember Kshama Sawant, and some of her allies in labor, are grumping about proposals to make this radical policy slightly more palatable for the business community.

At the City Council’s first hearing on Murray’s $15 proposal last week, other council members pondered allowing a sub-minimum wage for 16- and 17-year-olds, as well as allowing a lower wage for a month or two of training.

The training wage idea is strongly backed by micro-businesses in Seattle’s ethnic minority community to facilitating training of new immigrants with limited English. The teen wage idea acknowledges that employment rates for workers aged 16 to 19 in the Puget Sound have fallen by half since 2000, according to the Brookings Institution.

In response, Sawant said a lower minimum wage for teens means “condemning those low-wage workers to not having the best start in life.”

Sawant said, “The whole idea of $15 is to go forward. A training wage takes it backward.”

What’s missing from that analysis is this fact: Those earning a training wage would make slightly less than what would be the highest minimum wage of any city in the country.

Under Murray’s proposal, Seattle’s minimum wage would be more than $18 an hour by 2025 — $6 more than what the state minimum wage, which automatically rises with inflation, would be. Even with a subminimum wage — usually defined as 85 percent of the standard wage — teens and trainees would be making more than $15 an hour.

The Seattle City Council should allow both. That would not make the council sellouts to business. It would acknowledge that Seattle is about to take off on a flight unfathomable just a year ago.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).



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