Last year the state Department of Labor and Industries announced the state’s minimum wage would rise to $9.04 an hour — the result of a math calculation embedded in a 1998 initiative.
OLYMPIA, June 8.—A new organization in Washington state is taking on the big problem of young-adult unemployment, and you have to wonder if it will end up forwarding proposals regarding this state’s long-simmering minimum-wage issue, or the long-running debate over whether to permit a “training wage.”
Community Forums Network is a non-partisan group that is working from the ground up to build consensus on youth-employment issues, explains executive director Carrie Shaw, who has a long background in Washington state public affairs. She says the group is hosting community forums in partnership with community, education and business groups, and it is conducting an online survey that so far has drawn 1,500 responses. The group also is making grants available to organizations active on the issue.
The striking point made in the group’s debut press release is that Washington state has the 9thlowest young-adult employment rate in the country. “The trend line on youth employment has been going down since 2000, so it’s not just the recession,” Shaw said.
It’s not a new issue to lawmakers or the business community. Many suspect the low rate has something to do with Washington’s minimum wage, which at $9.04 an hour is the highest in the nation, and is nearly $2 more than most other states. The federal minimum wage is $7.25. Automatic increases in the wage are tied to a measure of the consumer price index that is based on the most generous measure of inflation, for urban wage earners and clerical workers. The Washington state indexing process was established by an initiative sponsored by the Washington State Labor Council and passed by voters in 1998.
Shaw tells Washington State Wire that the group takes no position on the minimum wage, though it does ask a question regarding a training wage in its online survey.
The group’s press release follows:
New Organization Seeks to Find Consensus on How to Fix Young Adult Unemployment
Issaquah, Wash. – Washington state has the 9th lowest young adult employment rate in the country. What to do about it is the question being asked by Community Forums Network (CFN), a new public engagement organization with a mission to discover consensus on major issues and to share those insights with policy decision-makers.
With a young adult — ages 16 to 24 — employment rate of only 43 percent, Washington state has the 9th lowest rate in the country according to government labor statistics. Now through June 17, CFN is hosting forums and promoting an online survey through a network of 25 nonprofit community, education, and business organizations and for anyone interested in providing feedback on how to fix the problem.
“Providing citizens opportunities for deliberation and a direct pipeline to leaders is critical for a healthy democracy,” said Diane Douglas, executive director of CityClub Seattle, “CFN and CityClub share this goal. We’re pleased to be partners.”
“All we hear about is how divided we are on important issues,” Carrie Shaw, CFN executive director, said, “CFN’s goal is to buck that conventional wisdom and find consensus on important issues like job creation. It’s a more solutions-based approach.”
Called Community Partners, organizations involved in the round 1 of CFN forums include; Association of Washington Business Institute, Boys & Girls Clubs of King County, CityClub of Seattle, Compass Housing Alliance, El Centro de la Raza, Solid Ground, TVW, Washington Federation of Independent Schools, and Washington Restaurant Association Education Foundation to name a few. A complete list of CFN Partners is available on the website www.CommunityForumsNetwork.org
Greg Lane, president and CEO of the Washington public affairs channel TVW, said, “We’re committed to informing citizens by providing direct, unfiltered and unbiased access to the public policy debate through TVW. The Community Forums Network provides citizens the ability to use that information to engage in constructive conversations that help develop positive and cooperative solutions to the critical issues that often divide our communities.”
“In just the first week of our launch we had over 500 people access the online survey,” Shaw said, “With 1 in 2 college graduates either unemployed or underemployed, we have a highly motivated group of partner organizations who know firsthand the human impact of this crisis.”
Amy Johnson, strategic adviser for the Association of Washington Business Institute and CFN partner, said, “High school students need to know and understand what their career options are once they graduate — and businesses need to find ways of developing the next generation of workers.”
Shaw added that the CFN model to build a network of diverse organizations as a hub for public feedback is centered on the work of Dick Spady, co-founder and president of Dick’s Drive-In Restaurants and a longtime advocate of meaningful public engagement and community building strategies.
CFN is part of the Dick Spady Legacy Project that includes Countywide Community Forums of King County and academic development in the social sciences through the Forum Foundation.
“We are grateful for the support of the Spady family in providing the startup funds for this statewide project to discover consensus on important issues,” said Shaw.
CFN’s goal is to have 50 organizations involved by the end of 2012 that represent the diverse geographical areas of the state and the spectrum of ideas and perspectives on a wide range of issues.
CFN is strictly non-partisan and works with a diverse group of Advisory Board members and partners to develop the topics and materials presented in the forums and online platform. Data gathered during a topic round is verified by an independent accounting firm and a “Where’s the consensus?” Report is created and shared with policy decision-makers, the media, and the general public. The Round 1 survey findings will be released in early July 2012.
For more information, or to access the online survey and forum calendar, go towww.CommunityForumsNetwork.org or call toll free 800-369-2584