by Sandy Hunt, Debbie Aldous, Julianna Dauble, Tim Martin, Shannon McCann, and Elaine Hogg
On election night, Tukwila voters sent a clear message that the statewide minimum wage is too low for our high-cost region. City of Tukwila Initiative Measure No. 1, which raises the city’s minimum wage to parity with the higher standards in SeaTac and Seattle, passed by a large margin.
We lead the Highline, Tukwila, Renton, Kent, Auburn, and Federal Way Education Associations. Together we represent several thousand educators working in communities all across South King County. We think it’s time for more cities to follow Tukwila’s recent example and raise their minimum wages.
Imagine you’re a single parent working full-time for the state minimum wage, $14.49 an hour. Your annual income is about $30,000. If you’re lucky, and you’ve been able to find a modest 1-bedroom apartment for $1,500, congratulations: You’re only paying $18,000, or 60% of your total income, in rent. You have $1,000 a month left to cover everything else for you and your kids: food, clothing, school supplies, gas, car repairs, transit fares, health care, child care — let alone taking time off to visit family or buy gifts for the holidays.
As educators, we see the devastating impacts of poverty on our students every day. When students come to school hungry, they can’t concentrate in class. When parents are stressed about paying the bills, their children feel it too. We also know that there are health consequences for undernourished learners.
Rents in South King County cities have risen 20–30% since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Rising costs of gas and food are taking a big bite out of families’ paychecks, and low-income families with children are struggling the most. When families are forced to move because their wages are too low to cover a rent increase, changing schools disrupts their children’s education and affects whole classrooms of students — both the ones they are forced to leave and the mid-year receiving schoolrooms.
Raising the minimum wage won’t fix everything, but it will give low-wage workers and their school-age children a desperately needed boost. Statewide, the Washington Education Association recognizes this need as shared in their position statement: “The Washington Education Association believes a living wage for all workers in every community is a basic right, and a living wage will ease the effects of poverty on our students, their families, and our communities.” Moreover, compensating workers adequately “will decrease dependence on government assistance and increase opportunities for students to learn.”
By this time next July, thanks to Initiative Measure No. 1, most workers in Tukwila will be paid at least $18.99 an hour. Our single parents working full-time will have almost $800 more each month to cover expenses while those with two minimum-wage workers in a household may be able to quit their second or third jobs to spend time with their families.
Tukwila’s election results show that this is a popular policy and is needed to support low-wage workers living among us. The elected officials in the cities our districts serve — Renton, Kent, Auburn, Federal Way, Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, SeaTac, and White Center in unincorporated King County — should sit up and take note. They have the power to do the right and necessary thing to ensure the essential workers in their cities are making a living wage.
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Sandy Hunt is the president of the Highline Education Association. Debbie Aldous is the president of the Tukwila Education Association. Julianna Dauble is the president of the Renton Education Association. Tim Martin is the president of the Kent Education Association. Shannon McCann is the president of the Federal Way Education Association. Elaine Hogg is the president of the Auburn Education Association.
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