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

Session Recap: ‘Historic’ — not label of pride

Some legislators may boast of a “historic” session. History will mark 2017 as a low point in Iowans’ respect and care for each other.

By

4/22/17

IFP Statement: ‘Historic’ session not a label of pride

Legislative session hits working families and traditions of good governance

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Statement of Iowa Fiscal Partnership • Mike Owen, Iowa Policy Project

To describe the 2017 Iowa legislative session as “historic” is not a label its leaders should wear with pride.

Iowans needed a legislative session that worked to raise family incomes and expand educational opportunity. Iowans had long demanded water-quality improvement measures. Many called for lawmakers to address the lack of fairness, adequacy and accountability in a tax system laden with special-interest breaks and costly subsidies to corporations.

Instead, Iowans got a continued ratcheting down of funding for PK-12 public education. There were significant and serious cuts in post-secondary education that will lead to tuition increases. We saw cuts to early-childhood education and other programs that serve our most at-risk children and neglect of the child-care assistance program that helps working families struggling to get by.

The Legislature continues to demand little or nothing of industrial agriculture in cleaning up the mess it has left in our waters. Lawmakers tried to dismantle the Des Moines Water Works board, limited neighbors’ right to complain in court about pollution, and eliminated scientific research at the Leopold Center. Their ultimate action on water merely diverts resources from other priorities, such as education and public safety.

Lawmakers largely left the tax issue to the next session. An overture in the House to reform Iowa’s reckless system of tax credits was a welcome acknowledgment that this issue needs attention, but devils in the details make further discussion of this issue during the interim even more welcome.

Perhaps as troubling as the destructive nature of policy content this session, Iowa’s image of adherence to good governance took a big hit. The most controversial policy changes came not through collaborative, public discussion in committee, let alone the 2016 political campaigns, but were often dumped into lawmakers’ laps with little opportunity for amendments.

In what could accurately be called a “session of suppression,” lawmakers achieved:

  • Wage suppression, with a bill to preempt local minimum wage increases while refusing to raise Iowa’s repressive, 9-year-old minimum of $7.25.
  • Workplace suppression, gutting collective bargaining protections for public employees, and making it more difficult for Iowans recover financially from injuries on the job.
  • Health-care suppression, achieved in workers’ compensation legislation while also refusing to reverse Governor Branstad’s disastrous move to privatize Medicaid.
  • Local suppression, whacking at local government control in a variety of areas: minimum wage, legal defenses against concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), fireworks sales, and collective bargaining options.
  • Voter suppression, with a bill to make it more difficult for many citizens, particularly low-income and senior voters, to exercise their right to vote.
  • Suppression of children’s healthy development, with additional cuts to Early Childhood Iowa and Shared Visions that will reduce access to critical home visitation, child care and preschool services for some of our most at-risk youngsters.

Some legislators may boast of a “historic” session. History will mark 2017 as a low point in Iowans’ respect and care for each other, a legacy that will not be celebrated when future Iowans look back on this session and the closing act of Governor Branstad’s long tenure in office.

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The Iowa Fiscal Partnership is a joint public policy analysis initiative of two nonpartisan, nonprofit, Iowa-based organizations — the Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City, and the Child & Family Policy Center in Des Moines. Reports are available at www.iowafiscal.org, and on the websites of the two partner organizations, www.iowapolicyproject.org and www.cfpciowa.org.

Look west, or to locals, for leadership

Iowans could take a lesson from leaders in Oregon, who had the courage to look at their residents’ economic challenges. Just repealing local minimums does not meet that test of leadership.

Those concerned about a “patchwork” or “hodgepodge” of minimum wage laws across Iowa might want to take a look west — far west — to Oregon.

In contrast to Iowa legislators’ calls for “uniformity” no matter how inadequate a uniform minimum wage may be, the Beaver State has embraced the idea of different minimum wages.

A 2016 law effectively sets three tiers of minimum wages — one for the Portland area (Metro), one for selected other urban areas (Standard), and one for more rural counties (Nonurban). Currently, the minimums are $9.50 in Nonurban areas, and $9.75 in the Standard and Metro areas. As of July 1, they will be $10, $10.25 and $11.25, respectively.

As the Oregon law moves forward, the three tiers will rise in steps each July 1, ultimately to between $12.50 and $14.75 by 2022. A formula will index those rates starting in 2023.

Quite a contrast from Iowa, where we still sit at $7.25 as a statewide minimum, with five counties (Lee County the latest, on Tuesday) choosing to set a higher minimum for their workers. State officials who have balked at raising Iowa’s statewide minimum have retaliated with legislation to repeal the raises and prohibit future such actions, the bill as of Wednesday morning still awaiting the Governor’s almost certain signature.

Oregon’s hybrid approach of a state policy setting a small range of local minimums may or may not be optimal, but it does recognize the value of a meaningful state minimum reaching to all corners of the state, and the fact that not all labor markets are the same — they differ by locality.

In Iowa, the local option exercised thus far by five counties under their home-rule authority is a middle ground that permits careful judgment when state edicts prevent it.

But Iowans could take a lesson from leaders in Oregon, who had the courage to look at the economic challenges faced by their residents, and to address those challenges in meaningful public policy. Just repealing local minimums does not meet that test of leadership.

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

mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org

Who will attend the signing ceremony?

billsigning-pensYou pass a bill, presumably you’re proud of it, and would like a picture with the Governor signing it. And you even might get a pen.

There are usually plenty of pens.

The Iowa House and Senate have now both passed a bill removing authority of local governments in Iowa to pass minimum wage increases above the state’s meager $7.25. Four counties have done so, and these ordinances will be repealed.

Who wants their picture with the Governor authorizing a pay cut for some 85,000 Iowans? The Governor, who set a campaign goal in 2010 of a 25 percent increase in family incomes (see his website), might think twice about attending himself.

In any event, we can’t make it.

And neither can anyone at $7.25.

owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the 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.

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.

Today’s virtual House graphic: Cutting wages in four counties

Local minimum wage ordinances cover one-third of the private-sector workers in the state of Iowa.

Editor’s Note: The Iowa House of Representatives voted Monday to deny 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, we will offer examples. Here is today’s graphic, to illustrate where county-level minimum wages have passed and could be repealed.

Iowa 03-BLUE-countiesxljpIowa Policy Project reports have illustrated the impacts of increases in the minimum wage if enacted at the state level or, in some cases, at the local level. Four counties have enacted minimum wage increases in Iowa, with the Johnson County wage of $10.10 taking effect in three steps and fully implemented last month. Polk, Linn and Wapello counties also have passed county-level minimums.

If the state Legislature were to choose to repeal those local minimums, it would affect one-third of the private-sector workers in the state of Iowa. For more information about the minimum wage in Iowa, visit this page, and this blog post by IPP’s Peter Fisher.