The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 12, 2014

Our View: Raise Minnesota's minimum wage reasonably

Why it matters: A reasonable minimum wage increase will not likely significantly impact jobs and will boost workers and the economy

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Raising the minimum wage in Minnesota won’t hurt a lot of businesses and won’t kill a lot of jobs, but it will make a lot of people feel a little better about the value of their labor. Some will be able to pay their heating bill on time or make a bigger dent in their college tuition.

Seven percent of the people making minimum wage in Minnesota are over 55. A boost might allow them to buy their medications.

Boosting the minimum wage will pull Minnesota out of the cellar of states paying some of the lowest minimum wages in the country. Minnesota is one of only four states that pay minimum wage lower than the federal wage of $7.25 per hour.

There are many logical, economic and policy reasons for raising the minimum wage. Or we could decide it’s the right thing to do at the right time.

Democratic lawmakers in majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate continue to negotiate over different versions of the minimum wage bill, but both seem to agree that raising it to $9.50 an hour from the current $6.15 per hour (or the federal $7.25 in many cases) over the next couple of years will be a reasonable plan most Minnesotans would accept.

A reasonable increase is needed to help catch up for almost 10 years of lost purchasing power as the minimum wage remained flat. A recent Minnesota Poll by the Star Tribune showed 42 percent believe the wage should be raised to $9.50 per hour. Another 37 percent said it should be raised but by a lower amount. Most of those who favored the lower amount worried about job losses as a result of a higher minimum wage.

But many credible studies show that increasing the minimum wage has little or no impact on the number of jobs. In fact, job growth in the state of Washington continued after an increase in the minimum wage approved in 1998. Since that time, jobs have grown at a 0.8 percent annual rate, 0.3 percentage points above the national average. Predictions of the “job killer” wage didn’t come true and now Washington has the highest minimum wage in the country at $9.32 per hour. Arguably, the dramatic rise like that sought in Minnesota hasn’t been studied and we should move with some caution.

Other opponents of a minimum wage argue that most minimum wage workers are young and just starting out in their first job and therefore don’t really need a lot of money. That may have been true years ago, but today nearly 33 percent of minimum wage workers in Minnesota are 25-54 years old, according to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. More women are minimum wage workers than men. Some 20 percent of minimum wage workers are married.

Minnesota House and Senate DFL leaders have been stuck on the issue of automatic increases in the wage. House leaders favor the increases while Senate leaders are opposed. And others are working through exceptions which is appropriate with such a diversified workforce.

Some compromise on these points would be appropriate. One could set an automatic increase for every three or four years to give employers a chance to plan. House leaders may want to consider that taking all control for merit pay out of the hands of employers of minimum wage workers may be more detrimental to employment, and flies in the face of the idea that if you work hard, you can earn your own gains.

Ultimately, raising the minimum wage to a reasonable level is not only the right thing to do, but good business that will make our state competitive in showing we value those who enter our workforce and are willing to work hard to get ahead.