It’s now been eight years since Iowa’s minimum wage has changed, and Governor Branstad stated in a newspaper interview that he would consider signing an increase if it were to reach his desk.
Getting there is a big “if” as the House has not permitted the issue to come to the floor. New House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, in the same Cedar Rapids Gazette news story in which the Governor left open the door to an increase, had this to say:
“I believe we really need to focus on how to get people into jobs with livable wages. I don’t think anybody has as their goal in life to have a job that pays minimum wage. People want to have a job that pays a livable wage.”
The Speaker’s comment merely deflects attention from a popular idea: raising the wage. The issue of course is not about making the minimum wage a “goal in life,” but facing up to the reality that it is low. It is holding down hundreds of thousands of Iowans in their quest to reach what are their life goals.
Furthermore, an interest in “livable wages” does not preclude action on a minimum wage. Nothing is stopping lawmakers from passing a “livable” minimum wage, or by boosting the minimum as part of a larger strategy to encourage better wages across the board in Iowa.
This is not some small slice of our population who could gain. Statewide, a minimum wage increase would give a raise to hundreds of thousands of Iowa workers. An increase from $7.25 to $10.10, for example, would help 306,000 Iowa workers; and a raise to $12, 436,000. Raise it to $15, closer to an actual cost of living, and it would help far more.
A new report by IPP’s Peter Fisher notes that in Linn County alone, a wage at $10.10 by 2017 would raise wages for 18,400 workers directly — over half of them full-time workers and a third of them supporting families.
Speaker Upmeyer reportedly noted concerns about a “big patchwork” of minimum wages across the state in the wake or Johnson County stepping forward with a wage to be phased in to $10.10 by this time next year. She can fix that. The Speaker has the opportunity to put a popular issue on her agenda during an election year.