New expectations on minimum wage

Pushing the debate ahead to where it will affect more workers is where the debate needs to go.

What, you won’t give us $10.10? OK, we’ll take $12.

Now, we’re talkin’!

At a time when progressive positions are compromised before they are given a chance to help the economy, boost family prosperity and lessen growing inequities, minimum-wage proponents have drawn the line at an unusual place in the sand: ahead of the one before.

It’s a bold stroke when the House and Senate leaders are against any increase in the current minimum of $7.25 an hour. The national minimum wage has been stuck there since July 2009 — and in Iowa even longer, since the state minimum rose and stopped there in January 2008.

Seven-plus years later, inflation has put minimum-wage workers in Iowa behind where they were in 2007 and 2008.

In 2013, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa and Congressman George Miller of California teamed up to promote $10.10, calling $7.25 “unconscionably low.” But it has not happened.

Last week, Senator Patty Murray of Washington and Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia introduced legislation to raise the minimum to $12 by 2020, in five steps. It also would eliminate the $2.13 tipped wage and index the new minimum to inflation.

Here’s an Iowa fact sheet, and here are reports from the Economic Policy Institute and National Employment Law Project.

150428-MWgraphic12

For some a $12 minimum wage will still sound too low. For some it will sound too high — which is why the debate retreated to $8.75 in Iowa this year, and that cannot even get a vote in the Iowa House.

Pushing the debate ahead to a place where it will affect more workers — 436,000 in Iowa, or 42 percent more than the 306,000 affected with a minimum at $10.10 — is where this needs to go. It may increase pressure to the point where we see more candidates taking a stand and votes taken in Washington and more state capitols.

Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, executive director of the Iowa Policy Project
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The case for Governor Branstad’s minimum wage increase

The time is right for Governor Branstad to propose a minimum wage increase. It’s the right thing to do, and the ball is in his court.

Election Night 2014 — the hours that established why Governor Terry Branstad should push for an increase in the state minimum wage.

At first blush, this might not seem obvious. It was a big Republican night, and support of the minimum wage is not a marquee issue for Republicans.

On Election Night, a minimum-wage critic won the U.S. Senate seat of one of the nation’s most high-profile and ardent supporters of a minimum-wage increase, Iowa’s Tom Harkin, and Republicans took control of that chamber. Over in the House, Republicans flipped one seat and now hold three of Iowa’s four, along with a historically overwhelming majority that makes the minimum-wage increase sought by President Obama highly unlikely.

This turns the focus to the Iowa Statehouse, where the power structure remains effectively the same: Republican governor, narrowly Democratic Senate, slightly stronger Republican majority in the House.

With little change in Des Moines, why would passage be more likely now?

For one thing, we have gone one more year without an increase. It has been almost seven years now at $7.25; it is only a matter of time — and we may be there — when Iowa reaches a tipping point where inertia succumbs to an increase in the minimum wage.

For another, the near-certainty that it will not pass in Washington erodes pleas to wait for the feds. Recall that Iowa stopped waiting in 2007, passing the $7.25 wage that took effect in January 2008, almost 19 months ahead of the federal $7.25.

Finally, the tipping point noted above may be signaled in state referendum victories on Election Night for minimum-wage forces in two neighboring “red” states — Nebraska and South Dakota — indicating the time is right politically. Of the states bordering Iowa, only Wisconsin is stuck with us at $7.25.

State minimum wages higher than U.S. minimum on Jan. 1, 2015
State minimum wages higher than U.S. minimum on Jan. 1, 2015 (National Conference of State Legislatures)

An increase would be popular in Iowa. A recent poll showed 53 percent support for an increase to $10.10 an hour.[i] No politician in either party will be disadvantaged in 2016 having supported a minimum wage increase.

On the merits, it is well established that a minimum-wage increase is overdue. It comes nowhere close to a family-supporting income, and it has not kept pace with rising costs for almost seven years. Families depending on minimum-wage income have not seen lower costs of food, fuel, housing, clothing and health care in those years. Passing it now would mean:

  • Fewer Iowans in poverty.
  • A boost to local and state economies as families have more to spend.
  • A fiscal benefit to the state as less is needed to support extremely low-income working families.
  • More resources to support stronger work-support programs to point low-wage workers on a path to the middle class.

In the past, Governor Branstad has made it clear the issue was not his priority but he has not ruled it out.[ii]

For all of these reasons, the time is right for Governor Branstad to move ahead. It’s the right thing to do, and the ball is in his court.

[i] http://globegazette.com/news/iowa/poll-majority-of-iowans-favor-raising-minimum-wage/article_1b688a49-214b-5688-bfff-9e74ead757bd.html

[ii] http://whotv.com/2014/01/31/minimum-wage-branstad-hasnt-ruled-out-increase/

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

Stagnant objections to minimum wage increases

While passage of an increase is uncertain, Iowans working at the minimum wage will have to get by with creativity, possibly working two jobs and needing work supports.

Heather Gibney, Research Associate
Heather Gibney

Dialogue about increasing the minimum wage is finally emerging in 2013. President Obama proposed an increase in the minimum wage to $9.00 per hour in his State of the Union address, and Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller have introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 — which would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10. The Harkin-Miller bill would raise the wage in three steps of 95 cents before indexing it to keep up with the rising cost of living.

Iowa’s minimum wage now matches the federal. Raising it to $10.10 per hour would put nearly $6,000 more dollars in the pockets of Iowa families, and for the first time since the late 1970s a single parent with two children would be above the federal poverty level — a wage gap that we should have seen diminishing over time, but have not.

poverty vs min wage

Recognizing that the federal minimum wage is too low, 19 other states, including the District of Columbia have a higher minimum wage than the federal and 10 states annually increase their minimum to keep up with the rising cost of living. Unfortunately, attempts to raise the federal minimum wage and set automatic adjustments to keep pace with the rising cost of living have been hindered by bad economics. Beliefs that increasing the minimum wage will lead to job loss, that the majority of those benefiting would be teenagers and that it would decrease output for certain industries is the consensus among opponents, however unfounded. A recent report from the Center on Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) looked at the most influential research done on the minimum wage in the last 20 years and continuously found insignificant or no discernible effects feared — and promoted — by opponents of raises in the minimum wage.

While the passage of any of these proposals remains uncertain, Iowans working for the minimum wage will have to get by with their creativity; possibly working two jobs, relying on cash assistance and tax credits, going without those amenities that make life a little more enjoyable and hoping that one day they might join the middle class.

Posted by Heather Gibney, Research Associate