|Expect a debate when the Citizens League of Oklahoma hosts a forum Thursday asking whether a "living wage" might help the state's working poor. Susan Atkinson, the organization's executive director, said getting a panel to agree to discuss the question was challenging. "The citizens league has been focusing on poverty all year," Atkinson said. "We started to get closer to the idea of looking at the topic of a living wage when we had a 'speak up' in May about Wal-Mart. We asked, 'Does Wal-Mart make poverty affordable?'" Atkinson said her group was initially going to discuss whether the minimum wage needs to be raised. But one of the invited speakers, union official David Gray, said he wanted to discuss a living wage instead. The argument by Gray and the Oklahoma City Federation of Classified Workers, Atkinson said, is that a $1 minimum wage increase still wouldn't be enough to meet the most basic self-sufficiency standards in Oklahoma. Atkinson said the proposal is controversial -- and opponents resisted even discussing the idea. Critics argue raising minimum wage to a locally determined living wage would not reduce poverty and could increase economic woes by eliminating low-wage jobs. A 2003 Congressional Budget Office report estimated that an increase in the minimum wage to $6.65 an hour would cost employers $7 billion a year and cause the loss of up to 600,000 jobs. "We're just asking the question," Atkinson said. The discussion, starting at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at City Church, 136 NW 10, coincides with a weeklong examination by The Oklahoman of the financial crunch faced by Oklahoma families. "For decades, America's social cohesion has been grounded in a broad agreement that full-time work affords workers a middle class slice," Atkinson said. "This is simply not true in 2004. Both employees and employers are being hit hard from all sides." Panelists will include David Blatt, director of public policy for the Community Action Project in Tulsa County; Shirley Cox, director of social action for Catholic Charities; David Gray, president of the Oklahoma City Federation of Classified Employees; Mike Seney, senior vice president of operations at the State Chamber; and Larkin Warner, economist and professor emeritus at Oklahoma State University. The Citizens League of Central Oklahoma is a nonprofit public affairs and policy organization founded in 1995 and dedicated to public dialogue about issues that affect the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. Admission is free; a $6 box lunch can be ordered by Monday. For more information, call Atkinson at 528-2018 or send her an e-mail at email@example.com.|
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