By a 7-6 vote, the DC City-Council failed to override Mayor Gray’s veto of the super minimum wage bill, also known as the Wal-Mart bill. The $12.50 minimum wage for retailers with over $1 billion in sales and 75,000 square feet in the District will not become law. We should put this quickly behind us and pivot to policies that are conducive to faster economic growth and producing a workforce that is more well qualified for the type of jobs that will pay a true living wage (probably closer to $30 an hour if you mean the buying your own home and car kind of living wage).
Only faster growth will create the numbers and kinds of jobs that will permit DC residents to earn a true living wage. We have two main problems in the District: a) our economy is not growing fast enough to generate the numbers of true living wage jobs we require, and b) of the ones that are created, many times our District residents are not qualified to fill them.
The solutions to both problems are fairly clear and they fall into three categories: short-term fixes; medium-term fixes; and long-term fixes. The short term fix is accelerating the rate of growth of the District’s economy. The best path to faster growth is making the District a better, easier, and less expensive place to to business. Real, serious reforms need to come from both the tax revision commission and the regulatory reform task force. These are the primary levers the District government has for using policy to drive faster growth.
A strengthened and more effective workforce development system is our best tool for imparting the higher level skills that our residents need to qualify for higher paying, higher skill work. In 2011, the District spent $110 million on 31 separate job training programs. We need to know which of those training programs work and which ones don’t. It would be wise for Wal-Mart to underwrite a retail management training class at the community college, so that people can use their entry level Wal-Mart experience as a step up the ladder.
The long-term fix is a more dramatic improvement in our K-12 education system. Many reforms of the education system were put in motion by Michelle Rhee and have continued under Chancellor Henderson. There has been real, measurable improvement, but it hasn’t come fast enough. We are in favor of measures that improve student achievement more rapidly. We need to get to a 100% high school graduation rate as quickly as possible. But merely graduating isn’t enough. Those graduates must either be prepared to succeed at a four-year college, prepared for a technical training program, prepared for a career in the military, or prepared to earn a living wage right out school.
Fortunately, District policymakers have the bandwidth to work on all three solutions simultaneously.