Today’s virtual House graphic: Who gains with local raises

Local power to raise the minimum wage allows higher-cost-of-living communities to adopt wages that better match their housing and living costs.

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About 29,000 Iowa workers have already seen pay raises because the supervisors in Johnson and Linn counties enacted a local minimum wage, held at a mere $7.25 statewide for over nine years. That number will more than double to 65,000 come April, when the first step of the Polk County minimum wage takes effect.[1] By January 2019, when wage rates in all three counties will top $10.10, about 85,000 Iowa workers will be enjoying a substantial increase in their pay.[2]

All of those wage gains will be rolled back if a bill under consideration in Des Moines is passed and signed into law. House File 295 would prohibit counties from enacting any law that sets standards for wages, benefits, scheduling, or other employment practices that are higher than state law. It would also nullify the wage ordinances already enacted in four counties where the elected representatives took action to help low-wage workers in the face of nearly a decade of state inaction.

Who are the workers who have gained, or who will gain, these pay raises? They are disproportionately women (56 percent) and disproportionately non-white (20 percent), compared to the overall population shares. Only 1 in 6 is a teenager; 31 percent are age 40 or older, while 53 percent are age 20 to 39. Almost three-fifths work full time, while only 13 percent work 20 hours per week or less. Of the workers seeing a bigger paycheck, 31 percent are parents.

Iowa is a low-wage state in an increasingly low-wage economy. In 2016, the median wage (half of Iowa workers earn less than that, half earn more) was $16.04 an hour, just 13 cents higher than it was in 1979 when adjusted for inflation. Since that time, worker productivity has risen 167 percent, but the gains from that greater productivity have not gone to workers. Minimum wage increases are one of the most important ways of ensuring that the gains from economic growth are widely shared instead of being captured by the richest 1 percent of households.

Local power to raise the minimum wage allows higher-cost-of-living communities to adopt wages that better match their housing and living costs. Local, democratically elected boards have passed laws overwhelmingly supported by Iowans that are raising the wages of about 85,000 Iowa workers, helping not just those workers and their families, but local economies dependent on their spending.

[1] The Johnson County minimum wage rose to $10.10 in January, 2017, and increases by the rate of inflation after that. The first step of the Linn County wage to $8.25 also took effect in January, and the last step, to $10.25, is scheduled for January 2019. The Polk County minimum becomes $8.75 April 1, and rises to $9.75 January 2018 and then $10.75 January 2019.

[2] A county minimum wage was also enacted in Wapello County, but the city of Ottumwa, home to most of the jobs in the county, nullified it within the city by enacting their own ordinance leaving the wage at the state level. We do not include any estimates for Wapello County in our figures. In Johnson and Linn counties, a few small towns have also enacted ordinances establishing minimum wages below the county level, but few jobs are affected. The number benefiting from the higher minimum wage includes all those projected to be earning less than that wage as of the year the minimum goes into effect (about 65,000 workers), as well as those whose wages are a little above the new minimum but who can be expected to get a raise in order to retain parity within a business or in order to remain competitive in the labor market (another 20,000).

2010-PFw5464Posted by Peter Fisher, research director of the Iowa Policy Project
pfisher@iowapolicyproject.org

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. Here is today’s graphic, to illustrate how many Iowans are gaining from locally approved minimum wages.

Erasing local minimum wage gains

Legislation to end local minimum-wage increases in Iowa would guarantee different minimums in border communities as Iowa’s state minimum wage trails those of most neighboring states.

The state minimum wage in Iowa has been stuck at $7.25 for over nine years. But because of the actions of four county boards, a third of the private-sector workers in the state are now covered by a local minimum wage ordinance. About 65,000 workers in Polk, Linn and Johnson counties already benefit from an increase in their hourly wage to more than $10.00, or will in the next two years. Another 20,000 or more will benefit indirectly.[1]

Iowa 03-BLUE-countiesxljpBut those wage gains would all be erased under a bill filed in the Iowa House, HSB92. That bill would nullify all of the county ordinances; in a single stroke, it would drive down the wages of about 85,000 Iowa workers.

We know something about who those workers are. Over 40 percent work full time. Many are trying to raise a family on low wages. The vast majority are age 20 or over, and one in five are age 40 or above. They are more likely to be women than men. Many live in in poverty despite working full time.

The average low-wage worker in Polk County who would be affected by the Polk minimum wage, which rises to $10.75 in 2019, could look forward to a raise of over $2,700 a year. But not if that bill becomes law.

The beneficiaries ofIowa 03-BLUE-counties the county wage increases are not confined to the counties that passed them. Thousands of workers commute from surrounding counties, and they come home to spend those higher wages at local gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores and other retail shops. They hire local plumbers and builders and electricians. In all, at least 12 counties in addition to Polk, Linn and Johnson will see a substantial increase in resident incomes and local purchases as a result of those three county minimum wages. Nullifying the wage increases will harm local economies, not just low-wage workers.

The bill goes beyond revoking the minimum wage laws passed recently by locally elected officials. It prevents any local elected body from enacting any ordinance in the future that is aimed at improving the lot of our low wage workforce. City councils and county boards would not be allowed to pass a law aimed at improving local wages, benefits, or sick leave policies, or reforming hiring or scheduling practices, regardless of how badly such measures are considered by elected officials to be needed, or how widely they are supported by local residents.

While some have hoped the state would grandfather in existing local ordinances, and would raise the state minimum by some amount, they stand to be disappointed. The bill leaves the state minimum at $7.25. This despite 70 percent support in Iowa for raising the minimum.

The bill reveals that the alleged concern over a “hodge-podge” of local ordinances was not the real issue. As we have argued elsewhere, the hodge-podge is a bogus argument. Labor markets are local, not statewide, and a local ordinance aimed at dealing with local market conditions makes sense. Nor is it plausible to argue that paying a different wage to different workers is a burden to businesses, who do that all the time.

Ironically, the bill would actually mandate that the current hodge-podge of minimum wages that exists in all of our border metro labor markets must remain. Quad City and Dubuque area businesses will still face an $8.25 minimum on the Illinois side. Council Bluffs and Sioux City businesses with employees on both sides of the river will still face $9.00 minimum wages in Nebraska. South Dakota’s minimum just went to $8.65, Missouri’s to $7.70. No increase in the minimum wage in an Iowa county to bring it into line with a bordering state will be allowed at the local level.

This bill, in sum, would help to guarantee that Iowa will remain a low-wage state.

[1] These estimates are based on an analysis of data from the American Community Survey by the Economic Policy Institute.

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

pfisher@iowapolicyproject.org

County Minimum Wages Spread their Benefits Widely

Clearly, any action by the Iowa Legislature to roll back county minimum wages would harm workers and local economies in many of Iowa’s most populous counties.

It’s not just four counties that benefit from the higher local minimum wages that go into effect this year. Those four counties — Polk, Linn, Johnson and Wapello — account for a third of all private-sector jobs in the state. And a large number of people holding those jobs live in neighboring counties.

Polk, Linn and Johnson counties are the hubs of metropolitan areas, surrounded by counties where a sizeable share of the workforce commutes to the hub. Those commuters earn higher wages thanks to the county supervisors in the three counties. And they come home to spend those higher wages at local gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores and other retail shops. They hire local plumbers and builders and electricians. In all, at least 12 counties in addition to Polk, Linn and Johnson will see a substantial increase in resident incomes and local purchases as a result of those three county minimum wages.

The map below shows the percentage of lower wage workers in each suburban county who are employed in the hub county with the higher minimum wage.[1] Clearly, any action by the Iowa Legislature to roll back county minimum wages would harm the workers and the local economies in many of the state’s most populous counties.

Iowa 03-BLUE-counties

[1] Lower wage is defined as earnings of $3,333 per month or less. Restricting it to those earning $1,250 or less results in very similar percentages; the lower figure, however, would represent a wage of even less than the current minimum for someone working full time, whereas the county minimums when fully phased in will benefit all those earning under $10.10 (Johnson) to $10.75 (Polk), and some workers above those levels. These earnings cutoffs were the only ones provided in the Census data.

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

pfisher@iowapolicyproject.org

Will local wage laws spark state action?

The question in October is a question for January: Will local minimum wage efforts force a serious debate and action on a meaningful minimum wage for Iowa?

The pressure is building in Iowa for a minimum wage increase.

Polk County last week became the latest county to take matters into its own hands as Iowa lawmakers and Congress have left the state and national minimum wages at $7.25. Four counties have now approved minimum wage increases above $10 per hour by 2019, with one of them — in Johnson County — scheduled to be fully phased in by Jan. 1.

Within several days of that, the Iowa Legislature will convene and the ball will be in state lawmakers’ court.

In the meantime, Iowans tired of the nine-year wait for an increase may keep acting locally to boost prosperity for low-income working families — which is critical as about 1 in 5 Iowa do not earn enough for a basic-needs household budget.

Here is the current local minimum-wage lineup in Iowa:

Johnson County is currently at $9.15 in the second step of its three-step increase to $10.10 on Jan. 1, indexed to inflation after that.
Linn County has approved an increase to $10.25 by 2019 (three $1 steps, Jan. 1, 2017-19).
Wapello County will move to $10.10 by 2019 (three 95-cent steps, Jan. 1, 2017-19).
Polk County approved a wage of $10.75 by 2019 (three steps: $1.50 April 2017, $1 more in January 2018 and 2019), indexed to inflation afterward. Includes exception for workers under age 18.

There has been discussion or interest in a similar move in at least four other counties: Lee, Woodbury, Des Moines and Black Hawk. For some, this has become a county supervisor campaign issue.

The question in October is a question for January: Will the pressure of these local efforts, which are growing, be enough to force a serious debate in the Legislature on a statewide increase? And if it is, will that effort produce a wage that pushes Iowa closer to a cost of living wage? (Hint: Even $10 an hour is nowhere close.)

Stay tuned.

owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project. mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org

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

Minimum wage: When leaders won’t wait

When state lawmakers won’t act, local officials may well take matters into their own hands.

The Iowa Legislature adjourned the 2016 session 10 days past its target, but the timing could not have been much better.

Two days after adjournment — with no action on the state’s long-outdated $7.25 minimum wage — the second step of Johnson County’s local minimum-wage increase took effect Sunday.

The minimum wage in Johnson County moved from $8.20 to $9.15, with the final step to $10.10 scheduled for Jan. 1, 2017.

Johnson County supervisors acted last year because the state Legislature and U.S. Congress had not. Other counties in Iowa may see a need to follow suit if the state cannot move off the $7.25 level established on Jan. 1, 2008.

Working Iowans are trying to support families on minimum wage or slightly above because employers can get away with paying that below-poverty amount. Someone has to look out for low-wage workers when their employers refuse to do so.

Those employers benefit immensely from taxpayer support of education, law enforcement, roads and other public structures, not to mention direct subsidies or tax breaks.

The minimum wage is one way to establish accountability — and not just for business but for our political leadership as well. When state lawmakers won’t act, local officials may well take matters into their own hands.

Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project
mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org

Uncertain wage, certain messages

“If you work here I’m afraid you’re going to have to get along with less.”

 

Last fall the Johnson County supervisors gave the county’s low-wage workers a raise, and come May 1 they will get another one. The county raised the minimum wage from $7.25, where it has stagnated for eight years due to national and state inaction, to $8.20 November 1 in the first of three steps. The county minimum wage is scheduled to rise to $9.15 on May 1 and to $10.10 in January 2017.

It is worth recalling why this landmark legislation was needed.  While American workers are far more productive than they were 40 or 50 years ago, their pay has not risen accordingly. After accounting for inflation, the average wage earner is not much better off now than in the 1960s or 1970s.

Even at $10.10, the minimum wage will not be enough to support even a single person, or two adults with no children both working full time, at a basic, bare-bones standard of living in Johnson County. For families with children, that wage is even further from a self-supporting one. Yet, contrary to some perceptions that minimum wage workers are just teen-agers working part time, over 40 percent of the workers in Johnson County currently making less than $10.10 work full time, almost 80 percent are over age 20, and over one in five are parents.

Some have tried to argue that localities shouldn’t set minimum wages because it is a statewide issue, while others seem to think it is just an Iowa City problem (and some, paradoxically, argue both points). Let’s be clear: Johnson County is all one labor market. People who live in Iowa City or Coralville or North Liberty or Solon work in all those places as well; city boundaries have little to do with commuting patterns. At the same time, only about 6 percent of low-wage workers in Johnson County commute from outside the county.

So having a single minimum wage throughout the Johnson County labor market makes good sense. Certainly it would be best if the state Legislature acted on a statewide minimum wage increase, but its failure to do so should not be an excuse for localities in Johnson County to drop below the county minimum. And it certainly makes no sense to complain that a county minimum creates a patchwork across the state, which is not a single labor market, and then to create an actual patchwork within the county by local ordinance.

Raising the wages of low wage workers to something closer to a self-sustaining wage is good for the local economy. Higher wages boost spending power, driving up sales at local retail and service businesses. Businesses find that higher wages can be offset through increased productivity, lower turnover, and slight increases in prices. Study after study has shown that local minimum wage ordinances have no discernible net effect on employment.

Johnson County residents should be proud to join the 28 other cities and counties across the country that have taken action to boost the wages of low-wage workers. Consider the message of localities choosing to deprive their workers of a long-overdue raise.

Does North Liberty or Tiffin really want to say to residents: “If you work in Iowa City or Coralville, we’re glad you’re going to get a raise, but if you work here I’m afraid you’re going to have to get along with less; oh, and please don’t take it out on our local businesses by shopping elsewhere.”

2010-PFw5464Posted by Peter Fisher, research director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project.
pfisher@iowapolicyproject.org