OPINION | Overdue raise in state’s minimum wage would benefit all workers

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An increase in Minnesota’s minimum wage is long overdue. The state last raised its minimum wage in 2005. Minnesota has the second lowest state minimum wage and is one of just four states whose state minimum wage is less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Several bills in the state legislature this year would raise the state’s minimum wage. The Minnesota AFL-CIO is calling for legislation to raise the state minimum wage to $10.55 per hour in phases over three years.

Raising the minimum wage is a simple matter of economic justice. If you work, you should be paid enough to pay your bills and support your family.

Yet a study released last year by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry estimated that 93,000 Minnesota workers were paid $7.25 an hour or less.

No one can survive on those wages.

According to the JOBS NOW Coalition, a wage of $14.03 per hour would be needed for a basic family-sustaining wage in Minnesota for a family of four with two working adults (and also employer-provided health insurance).

Some workers covered by collective bargaining agreements earn a lot more than that. Some union workers, however, are working in low-wage jobs in health care,  hospitality, janitorial services and other fields. Their earnings are not far above minimum wage.

We need to come together as a labor movement and advocate with legislators to win a significant increase in Minnesota’s minimum wage.

“I have a contract,” you might be thinking. “Why should I be concerned about the minimum wage?”

We as a labor movement are at our best when we advocate for the interests of all workers, not just for our own interests. We as a labor movement seek economic justice and a better life for all workers.

But we all have a direct stake, too, in winning an increase in the state’s minimum wage.

Raising the minimum wage, by raising the floor, puts upward pressure on all wages, particularly for the many low wage workers earning just above minimum wage.

In fact, a study by the Economic Policy Institute estimates that 463,848 Minnesota workers would get a raise if the federal minimum wage increased from $7.25 per hour to $9.80 per hour — boosting consumer spending by $600 million statewide.

Now that would be a significant, job-creating economic stimulus!

When minimum wage and low wage workers earn more, they will spend it. They will spend more on goods and services, putting more dollars into the economy, which benefits us all.

Bill McCarthy is president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation.