Alec Giese unpacks tomatoes Tuesday at Shop’n Kart in Ashland. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore

Minimum-wage workers 'fight for 15'

Restaurant, retail and hospitality industry workers are welcoming a 15 cents-per-hour raise on Jan. 1, but they have distant hopes of a different 15 — a $15-an-hour "living wage."

"The 15-cent raise will help a lot, but a good minimum would be $15," said Alec Giese, a worker at Shop'n Kart in Ashland. "But where's the money going to come from? It's a tough struggle. By the time I pay rent, gas and other expenses, I'm broke."

Another worker, Kirk Whitworth, who earns above the minimum, observed, "It'll be helpful. Every cent helps. When I worked at Taco Bell for minimum wage, it was really hard to get by. With this job, I eat decently and pay the rent OK."

Oregon's minimum wage, linked by law to the federal Consumer Price Index, climbs to $9.10, the second highest among states, on Wednesday. Washington state's minimum wage is $9.32. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.

The state's new minimum wage, says former Oregon Action chief Rich Rohde, "is designed to keep up with inflation, but it's not going to make the individual or family self-sufficient. Fifteen cents will make a difference, of course, but it leaves restaurant workers drastically underpaid.

The national movement, called "Fight for Fifteen," is led by Alliance for a Just Society, Rohde says, "but it will be hard to get there."

Rohde disputes the notion that hikes in the minimum wage are soon wiped out by hikes in prices, noting, "Studies have shown any inflation from raising it are very minimal, so actually the hikes do help workers. We've not had any significant inflation from it, and it does not cost jobs. What we're doing here is working to put food on the table."

The Employment Policies Institute, a fiscally conservative think tank in Washington D.C., said in a news release, "There is little doubt that raising the minimum wage has disastrous results for the most vulnerable job-seekers, (with studies pointing) to job loss following an increase in the minimum wage."

Working for just above the minimum wage, Cory Jylha of Shop'n Kart says $15 an hour would enable retail workers to get by comfortably if they work full time, but at the present minimum "it's nearly impossible after you pay all the bills. I can pay the rent OK, but food is super-expensive. (Natural) gas is $80, and the city's power bill is $150. I don't have kids. I don't know how these guys with kids feed them."

The wage hike amounts to a 1.7 percent increase, says Guy Tauer, regional economist with the Oregon Department of Employment in Medford.

"It's not a huge increase, but if someone is just over minimum wage, it pushes them up to the next tier," says Tauer.

In a recent analysis, he adds, the Employment Department found that, adjusted for inflation, the lowest fifth of earners have lost ground since 2007, while the highest fifth gained ground.

The top earners, he adds, "have gained ground because they have higher skills, which are in demand, and higher education."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

Share This Story