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Washington's minimum wage goes up 12 cents an hour in 2011

Come the new year, Washington's minimum wage workers will get paid 12 cents more per hour.

The state's minimum wage, also known as living wage, will increase from $8.55 to $8.67, keeping Washington the nation's highest paying state in terms of minimum wage.

"Our state minimum wage has been the highest for about 10 years now," said Elaine Fischer, Washington State Department of Labor and Industries spokeswoman.

The 2011 wage increase reflects a rise in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Workers and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The CPI-W is a national cost of living index that is calculated by measuring price changes in a variety of products, then weighing the price changes by the portion of a consumer's income spent to purchase the products. The process is a measure of inflation.

Washington is one of only 10 states, and the first state that enacted legislation, to adjust its minimum wage based on inflation. Initiative 688, a citizens initiative passed by state voters in 1998, requires the Department of Labor and Industries to make cost-of-living adjustments, based on the CPI-W, to the minimum wage each year.

"We just follow the law that says if the CPI goes up, the minimum wage goes up," Fischer said.

The food services, agriculture and retail industries employ the largest number of minimum wage workers in Washington, Fischer said. The food services industry accounts for 35 percent of the state's living wage workers; agriculture and retail account for another 17 percent each, she said.

Linda Templeton, Shanelle Whitford and Kyle Thompson, all retail and food service workers in Federal Way, said they were unaware the state's minimum wage was due to increase come January.

Templeton, a Target employee, said the change won't affect her personally. She's been with the company for more than six years. She was glad to hear the news and said it would affect many other Target employees.

"I think it's great," she said. "They always start you at minimum wage."

Whitford, 17, works seasonally selling scarves at a kiosk at The Commons mall. She was happy to hear she'd be getting a larger paycheck soon.

"Yeah, I care about it because it means I'll have more money," she said.

Whitford said she'll be looking for another job once the holiday season is over.

Thompson, a 19-year-old who has worked at Orange Julius for four months, said the wage increase won't affect him much. Thompson earns minimum wage and works roughly 20 hours per week, he said. The wage increase will only add a few more dollars to his paycheck.

"Twelve cents: It's not a huge difference," he said.

Washington's last minimum wage increase came in 2009. At that time, workers' wages were bumped up 48 cents per hour when the pay scale jumped from $8.07 to $8.55, according to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. From 2009 to 2010, the living wage remained unchanged. This reflected a rare occurrence of deflation, Fischer said.

"That was the first time since the indexing law went into effect in 1998," she said.

King County, in the second quarter of 2009, had 9,689 full-time equivalent minimum wage jobs, according to the Washington State Employment Security Department's Jan.-March 2010 Washington Labor Market Quarterly Review. In Washington state, during the same time period, there were 52,728 full-time equivalent jobs paying minimum wage, according to the same source.

Oregon, Ohio, Colorado and Montana will see minimum wage increases in the new year. Oregon's living wage is currently $8.40. Ohio's is $7.30. Colorado's minimum wage registers at $7.24 per hour and Montana's is set at $7.25, according to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Each of the states bases its living wage on inflation and the CPI.

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A minimum wage was adopted by Washington state in 1961 when the Legislature passed the Minimum Wage Act. The wage was tied to the CPI-W in 1998. The federal minimum wage is not tied to inflation and will not increase without Congressional legislation.

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