The Star Tribune Editorial Board was right in its March 10 editorial (“Raise minimum wage to make work pay”) to call for lawmakers to increase Minnesota’s minimum wage. Work should pay. It’s an embarrassment that Minnesota, with a $6.15 rate, is one of only four states to have a minimum lower than the federal $7.25 rate. The Editorial Board also made a strong argument why the minimum wage shouldn’t be reduced for workers who happen to receive tips for the work they do.
Unfortunately, the Editorial Board advocated leaving future minimum-wage increases in the hands of politicians. While it would be nice if our elected leaders were always good stewards of the minimum wage, we need to face reality. Politicians at the state and national levels don’t have a good track record on this issue. Over the last 45 years, the minimum wage has lost considerable value. It had its highest buying power in 1968; if it had kept its value, the rate would now be $10.55.
Gridlock has, is and will be a barrier on issues like this. One need only look at the current stalemate in Washington, D.C., and Minnesota’s two government shutdowns in the last decade to see that gridlock is all too frequent. But now, for the first time in two decades, Minnesota’s state government is no longer divided. The Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton have an amazing opportunity to make long-lasting changes. By tying future minimum-wage increases to the rate of inflation, we can ensure that low-wage workers don’t become victims of gridlock. We can ensure that they won’t see their paychecks lose value every year to the point that they are forced to access public assistance just to make ends meet.
A fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. Legislators haven’t addressed this issue in eight long years. An increase is long overdue. A significant minimum-wage increase would mean higher wages for more than half a million Minnesotans.
Remember: For every dollar increase in the minimum wage, families with minimum-wage workers tend to increase spending by more than $800 per quarter during the first year. That means that low-wage workers would be part of Minnesota’s ongoing economic recovery.
Now is the time to make work pay — and to ensure that it keeps paying for working Minnesotans.
Shar Knutson is president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO.