The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

November 7, 2013

Minimum wage fight gains momentum with Obama support, election wins


This summer, thousands of fast food restaurant workers across the country dropped their spatulas and picked up signs calling for super-sized wage hikes.

Tyree Johnson, 45, stood outside a McDonald’s restaurant in downtown Chicago with a sign that read: “We are worth more.”

He makes $8.35 an hour, just 10 cents over the Illinois minimum wage.

Johnson has a room at a men’s hotel in downtown Chicago, which he pays for by cooking and cleaning at the fast food giant. He’s worked at McDonald’s for more than two decades.

It’s a check-to-check lifestyle, he said. But if the minimum wage were raised to $15 an hour, as he hopes, he could get an apartment and wouldn’t have to depend on his aunt for help, he said.

“The only times I’ve gotten a raise is when they increased the minimum wage,” he said.

New Jersey became the fourth state to raise its minimum wage this year after New York, Connecticut and California, buoying the hopes of supporters elsewhere.

But opponents like House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the National Federation of Independent Business say an increase would only make it harder for small businesses to hire people.

“Small businesses clearly have been under financial pressure,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “They got hit in the recession hard and recovered more slowly than big companies and midsize companies. And the minimum wage will clearly hurt them more.”

Instead, Zandi thinks more changes could occur on the state level. Keep an eye on the Northeast and West Coast states, he said, where politics are more liberal and wages are higher.

An extra dollar or two increase in the federal minimum wage will have less of an impact — and therefore opposition — when workers in low-wage jobs are already making more than proposed increases.

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