In the refugee camp in Kenya, preparing to come to the United States, Ayan Barre believed all the tall tales she heard about the land where money grows on trees.
And after eight years in Seattle, the Somali mother of four jokes that by now she should be living in a nice big house and driving a fancy car.
But Barre, who lives in low-income housing in Kent, depends on income from her part-time job at an Amazon warehouse, supplemented by the assistance she gets for her elderly mother.
Until October, the warehouse job paid $13 an hour, almost on par with the top tier of the graduated minimum-wage proposal appearing on the November ballot.
While critics of Initiative 1433 have argued that $13.50 an hour, where the minimum wage rate would settle by 2020, is too much and goes too far, Barre’s struggle to support four kids and other family members on her meager earnings, illustrates the challenges low-income earners face.
In addition to requiring employers to provide up to seven paid sick and safe days a year, Initiative 1433 would hike the state’s minimum wage each year, over the next four years, from the current $9.47.
Full-time workers, at that rate, take home less than $20,000 a year, well below the poverty line for a family of four and insufficient, on its own, to afford a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in the state.
More than 730,000 minimum-wage earners would get a $600-a-month raise if 1433 is approved, according to Raise Up Washington, the initiative sponsor.
These workers come from all backgrounds and are employed in all sectors, from service to retail. They are child-care workers and home-health care providers.
One in six are women and women earning the minimum wage, according to Raise Up Washington, are the primary bread-winners in 40 percent of households with children.
“For many, this will mean no longer choosing between rent and child care, between food and transportation,” said Michael Ramos, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, a campaign partner.
“When we raise the minimum wage, we lift people out of poverty and reduce dependence on social services and government programs.” RAMOS
The increase would be particularly meaningful in communities across South King County, where people of color represent a majority of the population. According to the campaign, more than 40 percent of African Americans and Latino workers earn less than $13.50 an hour.
Additionally, said Jack Sorenson, spokesman for Raise Up Washington, 88 percent of minimum wage earners are over the age of 20, “not the Leave it to Beaver teenager saving to buy their first set of wheels. That’s not true in this modern economy,” he said.
The average age: 35.
Last year, Washington Community Action Network launched a special voting project, Operation Spectra, in parts of South King County and surveyed voters on a series of economic issues, including the minimum wage.
More than 70 percent told canvassers they support raising the minimum wage.
I-1433 which would raise the rate to $11 an hour next year, $11.50 in 2018, $12 in 2019 and $13.50 by 2020.
Whether and where to establish a wage floor has been a source of controversy since it was first established on the federal level in the 1930s.
In making the case for a 25 cents-an-hour, President Franklin Roosevelt said, “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.”
Today’s federal rate of $7.25, is lower than the rates in 29 states.
The common refrain that raising the minimum wage kills jobs has been repeatedly debunked; rather the opposite has proven to be true, Sorenson said.
“When people are taking home $600 more a month in pay, they are going out and buying clothes for their kids, buying groceries,” he said. “They look forward to going to a restaurant. That’s business that wasn’t there before.”
Two years ago, protests and walkouts by workers at McDonald became the spark for a movement that led to the passage of $15 minimums in several cities across the country, including Seattle. Seattle’s minimum wage will reach $15 by 2021.
Sorenson said, “$13.50 makes sense for the Washington economy outside of Seattle.”
And Barre, the Kent mother said recently Amazon agreed to increase hourly wages for her and her co-workers to $15 beginning in October, an increase, she said, that will go a long way to helping her family make ends meet.