Minimum wage sinking — not ‘stuck’

New analysis from the Economic Policy Institute illustrates just how much we underestimate the impact of inaction on the minimum wage when we talk of it being “stuck,” “frozen,” or “held down,” at $7.25.

In reality, as EPI’s David Cooper shows, the wage actually declines year by year, because its buying power doesn’t keep pace with inflation. The $7.25 national minimum wage that took effect in 2009 would be $8.29 in today’s dollars. Put another way, the value of the minimum wage has declined 12.5 percent since Congress last raised it.

For Iowa, the situation is even worse, because the Iowa Legislature passed and Governor Chet Culver signed a $7.25 minimum wage that took effect a year and a half before the national increase. When the Legislature returns in January, it will have been 10 years since the last minimum-wage increase, while costs to families have kept rising.

EPI also points out that at its high point in 1968, the federal minimum wage was equal to $9.90 in today’s dollars. Tie it to increases in average wages, and the figure is $11.62. Tie it to productivity, and the figure is $19.33.

Click the link below for an interactive version of the above graphic:
http://www.epi.org?p=132305&view=embed&embed_template=charts_v2013_08_21&embed_date=20170802&onp=132309&utm_source=epi_press&utm_medium=chart_embed&utm_campaign=charts_v2

It seems settled in the current political environment that our minimum wage is stuck — there’s that word — at $7.25. There is no movement in either Des Moines or Washington to raise it, even though 29 states currently are above that level, including all but Wisconsin among our neighbors.

In fact, the state of Iowa forced repeal of local minimum wages where counties and cities demonstrated leadership that our legislative leaders could not, as those state leaders pandered to ideological myths and political talking points from an entrenched and bullying business lobby.

A $7.25 minimum wage is indefensible. Businesses paying at or near that wage benefit from the economy that taxpayers support through public services, not the least of which are law enforcement, fire protection and streets, let alone an educated work force. Yet they insist that we ask nothing in return, while their workers toil at wages so low they need other public supports — in food, health care, housing and energy assistance, all threatened by the current administration in Washington — just to keep their families going.

Think you’re done hearing about the minimum wage? Not if we can help it.

Mike Owen, executive director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project

mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org

Virtual House graphic: Closer look at who gains with local raises

Well over half of those benefiting from local minimum-wage increases are women, workers over age 20, and full-time workers.

Basic RGBAs we have shown, about 85,000 Iowa workers stand to gain from local minimum-wage increases in Linn, Johnson and Polk counties when they are fully phased in as scheduled in 2019. As we show above, the beneficiaries are not who minimum-wage proponents typically attempt to portray in dismissing the importance of the wage.

Well over half are women, workers over age 20, and full-time workers. These are jobs that are essential in meeting household budgets.

Iowa’s minimum wage is $7.25, where it has stood for over nine years. Johnson, Linn, Polk and Wapello counties have passed increases scheduled to reach between $10.10 and $10.75 by 2019.

For more about the minimum wage in Iowa, both statewide and locally, visit this page on the IPP website.

Editor’s Note: The Iowa House of Representatives now denies the ability of lawmakers to use visual aids in debate on the floor. To help Iowans visualize what kinds of graphics might be useful in these debates to illustrate facts, on several days this session we are offering examples. In today’s graphic, we illustrate the impacts of local minimum wages that have been approved in Iowa. We focus on three of the four counties where wages higher than the statewide $7.25 has been approved. In the fourth county, Wapello, the impact has been blunted by the refusal of the city of Ottumwa to go along with it.

Is it time for Woodbury County to join the party?

This week, two more counties in Iowa — Linn and Wapello — joined Johnson County in setting a countywide minimum wage. In Linn County, the wage will rise to $10.25 by January 2019, while Wapello County followed Johnson County’s lead in raising the wage to $10.10 in three installments. Polk County is expected to take up a proposal soon to raise the wage there to $10.75 by 2019. Lee County supervisors, meanwhile, have appointed a study group to consider a minimum wage.

Unlike these counties, Woodbury is part of a three-state metropolitan area that includes counties in Nebraska and South Dakota where the state minimum wage has already been raised above the federal. The minimum wage is currently $8.55 in South Dakota and $9.00 in Nebraska. Sioux City employers are already competing in a labor market with wages above the Iowa minimum of $7.25.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, economists at the Economic Policy Institute estimate that about 10,000 workers in Woodbury County would see an increase in their hourly wage if the county set a minimum equal to Nebraska’s $9.00 by January 2018. Those 10,000 workers on average would see their annual income rise by about $1,500.

If the Woodbury County wage were raised further, to $10.25 by January 2019, putting it on a par with Linn County, the number of workers benefiting would grow to about 12,600. The average gain in income would about double, to $3,000.[i]

The Census data dispel the usual myths about low-wage workers. In Woodbury County, over 80 percent of those benefiting from the $9.00 or $10.10 minimum would be age 20 or over, with about a third over age 40. Well over half of them work full time. About 26 percent are parents, and 3,400 to 4,700 children live in a family that would see a rise in income.

Raising the minimum wage puts more disposable income in the pockets of the work force. Much of that income would be returned to the local economy as workers spend more at grocery stores, car dealerships, clothing stores, restaurants, theaters — in fact, throughout the local retail and service sectors. Increased sales in turn would create a need for more workers.

It is this increase in local spending that is a major reason that studies of local minimum wage laws have found no effect on employment. The higher labor costs to employers are offset in part by increased demand for their goods and services, and in part by lower employee turnover and greater productivity.

The Iowa Policy Project’s 2016 Cost of Living in Iowa shows what it takes for families to get by, just covering basic expenses for food, rent, transportation, child care and health care. In Woodbury County, a married couple who both work and who have two children needing child care would each need to earn at least $13.00 an hour to get by, even with health insurance provided by an employer. Without health insurance, they would need to make over $16 an hour. Even a single person living alone would need a wage of $12.46 to get by without public assistance, or nearly $11.00 an hour in a job with health benefits.

While $9.00 or $10.10 does not represent a living wage in Woodbury County, it gets workers closer to that goal and helps thousands of families, many struggling below the poverty line. And it provides a significant boost to the local economy through increased spending.

 

[i] These estimates include those affected directly and indirectly. About three-fourths of the workers gaining a higher wage represent those earning less than the new minimum. But the other fourth represent those a little higher up the wage scale who would benefit as employers adjust pay levels to remain competitive or to restore parity within a business.

2010-PFw5464Posted by Peter Fisher, Research Director of the Iowa Policy Project

pfisher@iowapolicyproject.org

Enriching the minimum wage discussion

History shows the minimum wage was meant to be a meaningful policy tool to help working families, not limited to “entry level” work or teens. In fact, efforts to establish the wage came as policy makers were trying to remove young teenagers from the workforce.

The spin against any minimum wage increase — or even having a minimum wage — has become predictable. This should surprise no one. Policy makers since President Franklin D. Roosevelt have battled the same stuff.

A little relevant history might be just what is needed as Iowans consider the arguments for a national, state or even local increase, which passed in Johnson County.

History shows the minimum wage was meant to be a meaningful policy tool to help working families, not limited to “entry level” work or teen wages. In fact, efforts to establish the wage came at the same time policy makers were trying to remove young teenagers from the workforce.

The U.S. Department of Labor website has an interesting paper published almost 40 years ago by a DOL historian, Jonathan Grossman: Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938: Maximum Struggle for a Minimum Wage In it, Grossman relates a story about a young girl’s note to Roosevelt, telling of pay being cut from $11 a week to between $4 and $6 a week. 

To a reporter’s question, the President replied, “Something has to be done about the elimination of child labor and long hours and starvation wages.”

“Starvation wages” are your concern if you expect the wage to be meaningful to a household budget.

Interestingly, Iowa Policy Project research shows what is needed for a household budget. In Linn County, where a very low $8.25 has been suggested by a split task force, a single parent needs to make between $21 and $25 an hour to support a household on a bare-bones, basic-needs budget without public supports. In Polk County, it takes between $22 and $27 for a parent in similar circumstances.

IPP and Economic Policy Institute analysis also show this issue is scarcely about teens. Statewide, more than 4 out of 5 workers affected by an increase to $12 are 20 years old or older. A quarter of them have children. Over half of them work full time. On average, they account for over half of their family’s total income.

County supervisors in Johnson County have taken the baton across generations from FDR, to assure families have a chance. They acted last year to raise the local wage in three steps to $10.10 by next January 1, and they have already taken two steps, to $9.15.

Discussions are moving ahead in Polk County, Linn County and Lee County. Passing a local wage is a significant signal to state leaders that they are through waiting for action. Any county must consider whether the content of its action is significant as well — however bold it may seem to pass local law on this issue, the amount does matter.

And for those who say, “Let the market handle it,” just wake up. Clearly, it does not. As FDR stated in 1937:

The truth of the matter, of course, is that the exponents of the theory of private initiative as the cure for deep-seated national ills want in most cases to improve the lot of mankind. But, well intentioned as they may be, they fail…. (T)hey have no power to bind the inevitable minority of chiselers within their own ranks.

Though we may go far in admitting the innate decency of this small minority, the whole story of our Nation proves that social progress has too often been fought by them. In actual practice it has been effectively advanced only by the passage of laws by state legislatures or the National Congress. [1]

Do we value history? Do we value work? Do we value families? Do we value practical solutions through public policy? We are about to see.

[1] Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Message to Congress on Establishing Minimum Wages and Maximum Hours.,” May 24, 1937. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15405.

owen-2013-57By Mike Owen, Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project.

Contact: mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org

About those jobs …

That we don’t have a chance of reaching Governor Branstad’s ambitious jobs goal is not surprising, because our long-term pace of growth is far too slow.

To read the headlines, you might not know we actually lost jobs the last two months. In fact, we’ve lost jobs in three of the last six months.

Basic RGB

Our monthly Iowa JobWatch report offers context you don’t get from official news releases.

Overall, we continue to have stubbornly and staggeringly slow job growth in Iowa. We are only about halfway to the ambitious job goal set by Governor Branstad when he sought Terrace Hill in 2010 — 200,000 jobs in five years. Through 56 of those 60 months, Iowa’s economy has added only 97,400 jobs.

That we don’t have a chance of reaching his goal is not surprising, as the long-term trend of 2,000 or fewer jobs added per month, which has held through his term, is far too slow a pace for the job growth that the Governor promised.

This has been going on for many years, and we have not fully recovered from a recession that ended six years ago. We have a 37,800-job deficit from the number of jobs we need — accounting for population growth — to be where we were at the start of the recession in 2007. (See graph below)

Basic RGB

For the state to be trumpeting a sixth-lowest unemployment rate really misses the job picture in Iowa — which is neither one of sweetness and light nor of gloom and doom, but one that demands a little more critical thinking about the challenges that face us.

How do we encourage more, and better, jobs in Iowa with sensible public policies that do not squander our state revenues on subsidies for companies to do what they would do anyway?

Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director, Iowa Policy Project

Careful with the comments, Council Members

Whichever way Solon council members vote on a local minimum wage, they should make the decision with good information, not discredited myths.

As the Solon City Council decides whether to back out of a Johnson County minimum wage increase, good information is available for comparison to recent comments by council members.

Peter Fisher of the Iowa Policy Project took a look recently at what a larger increase — to $15 — would do in Johnson and Linn counties. That report is here.

Separately, we have an Iowa Policy Project fact sheet available here on how Iowans statewide would be affected by an increase to $10.10, which is the level recently established by Johnson County supervisors to be phased in by 2017.

Findings of that research contradicts many comments by council members in Solon. For example, the minimum wage clearly is not, as one suggests, “for kids to go out and have some pocket money, that sort of stuff.”

In fact, the wage has been held so low for so long that it has become is part of a larger low-wage climate in our state, so that parents account for 1 in 5 of those who would be helped by a $10.10 minimum statewide. And almost half — 46 percent — of total family income in homes with a worker making less than $10.10 an hour comes from that job.

One council member ignores a lot of people in Iowa, very likely many of his own neighbors, when he suggests this is all about part-time work. More than 4 in 10 — 43 percent — of the workers who would benefit from an increase to $10.10 in Iowa are working full time.

Finally, an observation by a third council member is particularly noteworthy — that local restaurants are having trouble finding help. Wonder why that would be? Something about low pay, perhaps? How many more would be willing to work if pay were increased? How many more would be patronizing local businesses because they could afford to do so?

It is certainly up to the good people of Solon and their leaders to decide whether to go along with the new Johnson County ordinance, and by doing so to put pressure on the state to raise the state minimum. The latter, by the way, is what some council members are quoted that what they want to see: a statewide increase. Yet with no local pressure, is that really the message they send to state lawmakers who are holding Iowa’s minimum below that of 29 other states?

Whichever way they decide, however, they should be making the decision with good information, not discredited myths.

Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project

What happens at $8.75 in Iowa?

What cannot be denied is that the minimum wage is not enough — not nearly enough — to get by. Any increase will benefit a large number of Iowa working families.

There are serious competing ideas in Iowa about the minimum wage — whether to raise it, and by how much. Iowa lawmakers are currently discussing the issue; the Governor is staying out of it.

What cannot be denied is that the minimum wage is not enough — not nearly enough — to get by, and that regardless of political spin to the contrary, there are many families in Iowa whose household budgets depend greatly on that wage. Any increase will benefit a large number of Iowa working families.

We have illustrated with data from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) how an increase to $10.10 from the current $7.25 would affect Iowans. That two-page piece is here. That proposal would raise the hourly wage for an estimated 306,000 Iowans (216,000 directly, and 90,000 indirectly*).

A proposal in the Iowa Senate would raise the wage by a smaller amount, to $8.75. Again with analysis from EPI, below is what could be expected if the wage were raised to $8.75 in July 2016. Compared to the current $7.25, the new wage would affect:

•   12 percent of Iowa workers
•   112,000 Iowa workers directly
•   69,000 Iowa workers indirectly*
•   181,000 Iowa workers in total — about 3 1/2 times the number of people working at the current minimum.

150205-MWgraphic

More impacts are shown in the adjacent graphic. EPI projects increased wages of $147 million and increased economic activity (GDP) of $93 million.

There are those who dismiss the minimum wage as a minor issue. They are wrong, and the numbers show this.

* Workers affected indirectly have wages slightly above the proposed minimum and will be affected as pay scales adjust.
Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project