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Proposed minimum wage increase generates lively debate at library forum

By Kate McPherson 7:02 AM July 31, 2014

Sitting outside of the Loussac Library Wednesday night, 19-year-old Chris Hase contemplated his next move, having just quit his job at McDonald’s.

“I wasn’t able to pay rent, phone bill, anything like that,” said Hase, who, like many minimum-wage earners, can’t afford to live in Anchorage while earning $7.75 an hour.

“I was working two jobs,” the teen said.

His second job at Subway paid $7.75 an hour, but the lack of sleep caught up with him.

Hase said even a dollar or two an hour more would make a difference in his life.

“I would definitely say you should raise the minimum wage because you can’t live on it,” he said.

Meanwhile, inside the library, University of Alaska economics professor Dr. Kyle Hampton and former state labor commissioner Ed Flanagan debated the pros and cons of a minimum wage increase in Alaska. The forum was hosted by Alaska Common Ground and attended by more than 100 people. Ballot Measure 3, an initiative to raise the minimum wage, will be put before voters at the November 4 general election.

“It’s a total of 26 percent with a two-year phase-in,” said Flanagan, who is chairman of the group Alaskans for a Fair Minimum Wage.

Flanagan is the prime sponsor of the initiative to raise the minimum wage to $9.75 over two years.

“I think anybody would agree, especially with the cost of living in this state, that that qualifies as a modest proposal,” Flanagan said.

Hampton is against the initiative, saying it could affect job growth.

“It’s not just job losses you should worry about, but a lot of folks have stressed the fact that it’s a lack of job creation, so you may not see direct unemployment but you’ll see a lack of jobs created,” Hampton said.

Flanagan says job losses will be negligible.

“Probably offset by the increase in economic activity engendered by the better spending power of low-wage workers who spend every dime they’ve got,” he said.

Hampton argued someone will have to pay for people to make more money, and he said it’s unlikely to be the business owners.

“What we would like is that Walmart and Walmart’s shareholders pay that cost, or the shareholders of McDonald’s pay the cost, but that’s in fact not going to happen,” said Hampton, who points to a rise in prices for consumers as a potential downfall to the wage increase.

Flanagan and other supporters of the minimum wage increase say the current rate doesn’t come close to assuring people can maintain a healthy standard of living.



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