Local power to raise the minimum wage allows higher-cost-of-living communities to adopt wages that better match their housing and living costs.
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. 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.
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.
 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.
 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).
Posted by Peter Fisher, research director of the Iowa Policy Project
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.