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Oregon, Washington Slide As Leaders In Minimum Wage

<p>Massachusetts and California now have the highest state minimum wage in the nation at $10 per hour.</p>

Steven Senne

Massachusetts and California now have the highest state minimum wage in the nation at $10 per hour.

After a decade of mandating the highest minimum wages in the country, Washington and Oregon are now dropping back in the pack.

Six other states jumped past Washington and Oregon – which had been ranked No. 1 and No. 2 since 2005 – at the start of the new year, thanks largely to efforts in several legislatures around the country to raise the wage floor for workers.

California and Massachusetts now have the highest state minimum wage, at $10 an hour, a $1-an-hour increase in each state as the result of legislative action. Alaska, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont have also moved above the two Northwestern states.

Washington’s minimum wage is $9.47 per hour and Oregon’s is $9.25. The two states were the first to automatically adjust their minimum wages to account for inflation, which put them at the top of the national rankings. However, because the inflation rate was low last year – in large part because of the drop in oil prices – neither state raised its minimum wage for 2016.

Tim Duy, a University of Oregon economist who closely tracks the state’s economy, said the drop in Oregon’s ranking could ease complaints by businesses that the state is a particularly expensive place to operate.

“It’s good for Oregon when our employees are competitive in a relative sense,” said Duy.

Sponsors of one of the proposed ballot measures to increase Oregon’s minimum wage said she thought the state’s drop from the top of the list should provide a boost for their campaign.

“If you look where the trend is going, there’s definitely a national call” for increasing the minimum wage, said Courtney Graham, a spokeswoman for the Raise the Wage Coalition.

The labor-backed group began gathering signatures for an initiative that would raise the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour by 2018 and allow localities to set a higher rate.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jeff Mapes is a senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, Jeff covered state and national politics for The Oregonian for nearly 32 years. He has covered numerous presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and ballot measure campaigns, as well as many sessions of the Legislature, stretching back to 1985. Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in journalism.