The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 27, 2013

Minimum wage rally raises awareness

Battle coming up in the Legislature

By Robb Murray

---- — MANKATO — Like most parents, Gwen Moore isn't looking forward to the checks she'll be writing to area clothing retailers this fall.

Her kids, ages 10 and 7 and growing like weeds, are going to need some fresh school clothes.

But unlike most parents, Moore will be negotiating that rite of fall on a minimum wage income.

"It's hard," she said, "but I get it done."

Moore was the guest of honor Tuesday at a mini-rally in Mankato's Jackson Square Park. Sponsored by the advocacy group Minnesota 2020, the rally aimed to raise awareness about legislation that will be getting a lot of attention during the upcoming legislative session.

The Minnesota House passed a minimum wage bill last year that would boost that wage to $9.50 by 2015, a boost that accounts for increases in inflation and includes no penalty to workers who receive tips. The Minnesota Senate passed a similar bill, but it only raises the minimum wage to $7.75 over two years.

The bill remains active, said Minnesota 2020's Steve Fletcher, and he predicts a fight over raising the minimum wage will greet Minnesotans come January.

"A minimum wage increase has the potential to pump a half billion dollars into the state's economy and would have a sizable economic boost and ripple effect here in Mankato," Fletcher said during the rally. "Minnesota is one of the few states that allows small firms to pay workers below the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Minnesota workers deserve better."

Wages haven't kept pace with the rising costs of everyday necessities, Fletcher said. When looking at the entire workforce, Minnesota's median household income has declined 10 percent over the last decade.

"And when it comes to the minimum wage," he said, "it's been eroding since the late 1960s."

Moore said that a raise of a few dollars per hour might not seem like much, but it comes out to about an extra $320 per month. For a mom struggling to pay rent, feed her kids and keep the heat on during the winter, $320 is a lot.

She was referred to her current employer, Courtyard Marriot, by the Minnesota Valley Action Council. Kate Hengy-Gretz of MVAC said many people who come to her for help are unaware of all the services available to people in need. Engaging with all available services — such as MVAC, the ECHO Food Shelf, the Salvation Army — makes it easier for minimum wage earners to make ends meet.