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Tim Fought Associated Press Writer
Published: 24 August 2009

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Minimum-wage workers in Oregon began 2009 with a bump of 45 cents an hour, but those still employed at the end of a year of widespread job losses aren't likely to see an increase for 2010.
The state's minimum wage, now $8.40 an hour, will be recalculated next month. An increase would be effective Jan. 1. Inflation, however, is in check, and the Oregon minimum wage is tied to the Consumer Price Index, a measure of U.S. inflation.
Bob Estabrook, a spokesman for the state Bureau of Labor and Industries, says the recalculation won't be made until the federal government releases August numbers for the index. That's expected Sept. 16.
As of July, the index was down more than 2 percent year over year. By contrast, when the minimum wage was recalculated in 2008, the index had risen by more than 5 percent.
The trend in the index signals that the state's minimum wage is likely to be unchanged next year, Estabrook said.
Minimum-wage workers have been estimated at fewer than 150,000 in Oregon. That's less than a tenth of the state's total employment, reported in July at 1.76 million. The state has shed nearly 100,000 jobs in the past 12 months.
A raise in the wage, or the lack of one, affects a larger number of workers than just those at the minimum.
"The fact is that as the minimum wage goes up, it helps push the floor up for the person near the minimum wage," said Charles Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy and a longtime advocate of higher minimum wages.
Oregon voters in 2002 approved a ballot measure to raise the minimum wage and then tie it to the cost of living, as represented by the federal index. At its current level, the Oregon wage is $1.15 cents an hour more than the federal minimum.
As in most other states that index the minimum wage, the Oregon ballot measure doesn't include a provision for cutting the minimum wage when prices are falling.
Employers with large numbers of minimum-wage workers, such as farmers and restaurateurs, have long chafed at the law's provisions.
With Democrats firmly in control of the Legislature, they got nowhere in the last session with a proposal to suspend the indexed increase in hard times, defined as two quarters of economic decline.
Shawn Cleave of the Oregon Farm Bureau said farmers will continue to press their argument that increases in the minimum wage create a vise for farmers, who have little power over the prices for their goods, with the consequence that benefits and jobs are squeezed out.
"From our perspective," he said, "these are conversations that have to occur regardless of who's in control."

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