Protesters in Oregon call for $15 per hour minimum wage

On the heels of the State of the Union address, a portion of which focused on raising the minimum wage, protesters in Oregon took to the picket lines to protest why the state has yet to raise the rate.

On Jan. 24 outside the Oregon State capitol building, hundreds of protesters gathered, many of them with signs demanding that lawmakers raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, multiple news outlets reported. Oregon already has the second-highest minimum in the United States at  $9.25 per hour.

While the majority were adults, chanting "Fight for 15," children were interspersed among the gathering. It's these kids that many of the protesters said they were protesting for.

"For my sons to understand the concepts of social justice and looking out for the next guy – that's important," one of the protestors told KATU News. "I'm a firm believer that what goes around comes around, you know. If we contribute to our community and where we live, it just improves the whole thing."

Meanwhile, Justin Norton-Kerston, emcee of the rally and organizer for the protest, told the Statesman Journal that the wage increase is not just about the future, but the present as well.

"It's really not so much a matter of why as need," said Norton-Kerston. "The minimum wage really needs to raise – it's a poverty wage now. The recession is over, the economy has recovered.

He added that the economy in the Beaver State is growing three times faster than the nation as a whole, but wages haven't adjusted to this fact.

The jobless rate, however, is higher than the nation's. In 2014, the unemployment rate in Oregon was 6.7 percent, according to the latest numbers from the state Employment Department, compared to the current U.S. average of 5.6 percent in December.

During the State of the Union, President Barack Obama encouraged Congress to raise the minimum wage, challenging members in the chamber to try living on less than $15,000 a year with a family to support.

"If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise," he said.

Lawmakers to consider minimum wage hike in February
On Feb. 2, the Oregon legislature is expected to begin debate on a number of bills that are being considered, one of which is to increase the minimum to $15. Other legislators have introduced bills that would raise it but not quite as high $15.

Wages are something that every small business owner has to factor into their financial plan. Lobbying group the National Federation of Independent Business recently issued a statement on the $15 proposal.

"Any increase in Oregon's minimum wage will add more stress small businesses," NFIB said. "While several cities have raised their rates to the proposed increase, the situation in Oregon is different. It wouldn't just apply to the few high-cost-of-living regions, but to all parts of the state, including those rural areas where the cost of living is far lower than in Portland or Salem."

In an opinion piece for the Statesman Journal, Hanna Hoffman wrote that it's long since past the time that the state increase the minimum, noting how the lowest paid full-time employees for the state government make an annual wage of just over $24,500 – which equals out to be an hourly pay of about $11.80.

But others say that an increase would be too costly for taxpayers. An editorial in The Oregonian referenced a report from non-partisan group Legislative Revenue, indicating that a single parent raising two children would stand to lose money if the minimum goes higher than $11.10 an hour.

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