A majority of Minnesotans support increasing the state’s minimum wage from the current $6.15 an hour, the Star Tribune Minnesota Poll has found, but, like the Legislature, they differ on how much of a raise to give workers.
About 41 percent of Minnesotans said they would like to see the current wage floor jump to $9.50 an hour and 28 percent said they would like it to go up to $7.50 an hour. A quarter of Minnesotans said it should remain where it is.
The new poll comes as legislators are considering a variety of proposals to raise the minimum wage, which lags behind the federal standard of $7.25 an hour and is among the lowest in the country. Although legislators have not yet settled on how much of an increase they would like to pass, Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL legislative leaders say they hope to raise the state’s minimum wage this year.
The poll of 800 Minnesotans, taken Feb. 25 to Feb. 27, found support for at least a modest increase stretching across all demographic groups, with the strongest support among outstate Minnesotans and women. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Debra Zippel, a mother of four from Henderson, said it is time for legislators to raise the wage floor.
“Down here, the standard wage is around $10 an hour, ” said Zippel, a 55-year-old health unit coordinator. “I just can’t imagine living on $9.50 an hour, and I am the most frugal woman you’ve ever talked to.”
Small-business owners and business groups have trekked to the Minnesota Capitol to protest proposals to dramatically increase the minimum wage. They say mandated minimums can make running a business difficult and could impinge on hiring.
“Once it gets to a certain point, they just don’t hire anybody,” said Stephen Klein, a 55-year-old construction materials technician from St. Paul.
Advocates, however, say that national studies show that minimum wage increases do not harm job growth and help lift low-wage workers out of poverty. According to a state study, about 93,000 Minnesota workers, or about 6 percent of the workforce, make the current minimum.
Now, because Minnesota’s minimum is lower than the federal standard, most low-wage workers at large employers make at least the $7.25 an hour set nationally. Small employers, with sales under $500,000 annually, can pay their workers $5.25 an hour. Young workers in training are legally allowed to make $4.90 an hour for the first 90 days.
The poll indicates that Minnesotans are ready for those figures to go up.
“Minnesotans recognize that people are working harder and making less money and something has to change.,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.
Winkler is sponsoring a proposal to raise the wage standard to $10.55 an hour for large employers by 2015. Although that measure has received support from several legislative panels, he acknowledged that the Legislature might settle on a lower figure.
“I’m quite confident that a minimum-wage increase that reaches at least $9 an hour will come out of this session,” Winkler said.
According to the poll, Democratic citizens, like their representatives at the Capitol, offer the most support for a large increase. Fully 69 percent want legislators to boost the standard to $9.50, with another 23 percent saying they’d like to see it increase to $7.50.
Most Republicans and independents also want to see an increase, but by lesser margins. The poll found that a quarter of Republicans support fixing the minimum at $9.50 and 34 percent would support $7.50. Another 37 percent said they would like to see the figure stay where it is.
Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, R-Sartell, said with a still-fragile economy, uncertainty about new state taxes and changes coming to business health care requirements, now is the wrong time to approve a minimum-wage increase.
“This still remains a very major issue for businesses and job providers,” he said, reflecting the view of many Republican lawmakers.
He noted that the poll found a majority — 53 percent — want to either raise the minimum by 25 cents above the current federal minimum or leave it as it is.
Women, who are more likely to make minimum wage than men, offered far more support to a wage hike than their male counterparts. Half of all women in the survey said they believe $9.50 an hour is the right level for the minimum wage, with another 35 percent supporting $7.50 an hour. Only 8 percent said wages should stay where they are.
By contrast, 42 percent of men said the minimum wage standard should not change.
Still, a majority of men said they would approve an increase. Twenty-one percent of Minnesota men said they back the idea of $7.50-an-hour standard, and 32 percent said it should go up to $9.50 an hour.
Edward Carlson, 66, of Brainerd, is among the 32 percent.
“People on minimum wage can’t make it from week to week,” said Carlson, who is retired. “If you don’t make $10 an hour, it’s hard to make it.”
Jim Ragsdale contributed to this report.