At the Iowa Policy Project, we deal with numbers — a lot. And the numbers matter — but only because those numbers affect people.
On no issue is that more important than the minimum wage.
As we all know, Iowa’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. It’s pathetic. (We’ll show why in a moment.)
It’s important to remember, Iowans considered $7.25 something of a triumph when it passed — seven years ago.
When it took effect a few months later, on Jan. 1, 2008, it put Iowa ahead of most of the country. It took another year and a half for the federal minimum wage to reach that level.
In the meantime, costs kept going up. And both the U.S. and Iowa minimum wage stayed the same. So the real question is not whether the minimum wage should rise. It’s: “How much?”
Certainly the $10.10 proposed by Senator Tom Harkin and others is a good start. It chips away at the bills. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that even then, people will be working full time in jobs that do not pay enough for them to get by.
Peter Fisher and Lily French show why with their “Cost of Living in Iowa” research for IPP. For example, in Linn County and the Cedar Rapids area, if you make $7.25 an hour and work a full-time job 50 weeks a year, you make $14,500 before taxes. As our analysis shows:
• In Linn County, you need more than that whether you are single or married with kids.
• In the Cedar Rapids metro area — covering Linn, Benton, Jones, Iowa and Cedar counties — a single mom with one child needs to make $20.17 an hour. For a married couple with two kids, the family-supporting wage is $16.43 for each parent. And for all other families with kids, a parent needs to make over $20 an hour.
So the minimum wage matters. The only problem is, it doesn’t matter enough.