Oregon Approves Landmark And Controversial Minimum Wage Increase To Highest In The Country

Thanks to a landmark legislation that was approved by Oregon lawmakers on Thursday, the minimum wage in the state is about to get a whole lot higher — the highest in the whole of the United States in fact.

The increase will be based on an unparalleled system tiered by geography in Oregon. After the state House passed the measure on Thursday, it is now headed to Democratic Governor Kate Brown, who has already issued a statement of support saying that her intentions are to sign it into law.

“I started this conversation last fall, bringing stakeholders together to craft a workable proposal; one that gives working families the much-needed wage boost they need, and addresses challenges for businesses and rural economies presented by the two impending ballot measures.”

The issue of minimum wage is one that is being debated all across the country, as the fact that the federal threshold has been unchanged since the Great Recession has come under fire. In the past two years, 14 other states have actually raised their rates, and about a dozen more are planning to tackle minimum wage this year as well, either by a ballot initiative or through legislative action. It has been stated that one of the reasons so many states have taken up the minimum wage battle is due to the fact that wage inequality and middle-class incomes are so prominently featured in the presidential campaigns of Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

The uniqueness of Oregon’s bill is that it proposes gradual wage increases over the next six years by regions. With its current $9.25 an hour minimum, the Christian Science Monitor reports that Oregon already boasts one of the highest minimum wage in the nation, but by 2022, it would increase to $14.75 in metro Portland, $13.50 in smaller cities, such as Eugene and Salem, and increase to $12.50 in the state’s rural communities.

The division in the increase is a reflection of the cost of living in the rural versus urban communities of Oregon, with urban areas like Portland having seen soaring costs while rural farming communities are said to be struggling just to make ends meet. The increase has been met with much opposition from Republicans in Oregon’s Capitol Building.

Barry Bushue, the president of Oregon Farm Bureau, has stated that it will create problems for farmers.

“This enormous increase will force many family farmers to try to find ways to mechanize or transition away from labor-intensive products Oregon is known for, like apples, pears, milk and berries. Unfortunately, some will give up and sell, while others will simply go out of business.”

The increase is actually said to be an attempt to prevent unions, businesses, and farmers from bringing more aggressive proposals before voters in November by reaching a compromise through this bill. According to ABC News, the more aggressive proposals would have an increase done in half the time of this new bill and also calls for a statewide minimum of $13.50 or $15. It is unclear if the labor unions will still push forth the ballot initiatives later this year.

Oregon’s proposed three-tiered wage increase will make it the only state that increases by region. However, the deep economic, cultural, and political division between the urban west and struggling farming communities in the east might make the attempt at balance work.

An economic analyst for the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., David Cooper, has stated that in most cases wage increases have not had any widespread damaging effects, but he is hesitant to fully endorse Oregon’s proposed regional increase.

“[A]nytime you create these sorts of somewhat arbitrary geographic districts, that’s when you can create opportunities for some sort of economic disruption. would prefer the whole state got to the same wage level but at a slower pace by region so that everyone is held to the same standard.”

[Image via a katz/Shutterstock]