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Forum to debate state 'living wage'

By Steve Lackmeyer Published: December 12, 2004
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.

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