The marathon debate this week over whether to raise the minimum wage in Kansas City pretty much produced the best possible result for all sides.
Mayor Sly James and the City Council did not have to make a rushed decision Thursday on whether and by how much to increase the current state-mandated floor of $7.65 an hour.
Strong supporters did not have to push the council to place their initiative petition calling for a $15-an-hour wage by 2020 on the Aug. 4 ballot, where it would have faced a battle for voter approval.
Finally, harsh critics in the hotel, fast-food and other service industries got more time to continue their efforts to either squelch the call for more pay or curb how quickly it might rise.
The elected officials now need to work diligently for the next two months with all sides to determine the outcome of this controversial issue, which has far-reaching effects for the working poor and their employers.
Properly so, James and several council members appear eager to approve a minimum wage increase before the current council term ends July 31.
That also would beat the Aug. 28 deadline for cities to set their own wage schedules before a proposed Missouri law could prohibit such action. A bill has cleared the legislature and is awaiting action from Gov. Jay Nixon.
Two topics deserve the most focus as this matter plays out.
▪ The City Council needs to come up with a “Kansas City solution” that recognizes a national movement’s call for a $15-an-hour minimum wage may not be practical or the best result in this community.
Kansas City has a lower cost of living than some cities, such as Seattle, that already have approved higher pay. Kansas City is also a much smaller market, facing different kinds of economic competition than Chicago and Los Angeles, which also are moving toward far higher minimum wages.
James is showing strong leadership by recognizing these facts, which could help the council develop a reasonable and realistic schedule of wage increases.
Ultimately, the council could opt to slow down any rise in the minimum wage and head toward a lower cap of, say, $13 an hour, as James has mentioned.
▪ The council must spend time looking at numerous often-conflicting studies on how minimum wage increases have affected employment and the standard of living in other communities.
Then the elected officials must try to determine whether and how these examples might be applicable to Kansas City’s economy.
Supporters make the excellent point that higher pay puts more money in the pockets of people who can then afford to buy more as well as get access to better medical care and educational opportunities.
Detractors contend that increasing the minimum wage would lead to job losses in the city as well as decisions by some employers to flee to the suburbs.
Research is needed to see whether that has happened in cities similar to Kansas City. If it has, proponents counter with another persuasive claim: Even if there are fewer jobs, a far larger number of people will be employed at higher wages with a hike in minimum pay.
James has pledged to advocate for an increase in the wage, and he should be able to do so without unpleasant political consequences given his easy path to re-election on June 23. Petition backers surely will continue to seek action from council members, including seven who are not on the ballot because of term limits.
The best bet is to have the community-wide discussion, followed by a council decision on how far it wants to go to improve pay for the working poor without unduly harming the Kansas City economy.