Minnesotans overwhelmingly believe it is time to lift the state’s minimum wage, but fewer than half are ready to raise it to the level proposed by some DFLers, according to a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.

The poll found that 42 percent of Minnesotans say it’s time to increase the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour — a figure proposed by House leaders and supported by Gov. Mark Dayton. Another 37 percent say it should go above the current minimum of $6.15 but stay below $9.50.

Only 16 percent of Minnesotans say the minimum wage should stay where it is. At $6.15 an hour, the state minimum is below the federal standard and one of the lowest in the nation.

The poll found support for raising the wage floor across all groups: Whether men or women, Democrats or Republicans, young or old, urban or rural, Minnesotans say $6.15 is not enough.

“I think it should be more. It should be minimum of $10. Minimum,” said Jeff Richard, 51, a temporary worker in Lakeville. “I don’t know how someone working for less would possibly live.”

The poll results will give advocates of raising pay a boost as they try to change the wage floor again this year.

Last year, amid division among Democrats over how high to go, the DFL-controlled Capitol left the minimum wage unchanged.

Backers have vowed not to let that happen again. Dayton and House DFL leaders, along with many advocates, have settled on $9.50 by 2015. Supporters have spent months pushing legislators to support the increase.

They also plan a massive rally to welcome the Legislature back to the Capitol when it reconvenes next Tuesday.

“This clearly indicates that a broad swath of Minnesotans believe that this is the way to go,” said Brian Rusche, co-chair of a group campaigning for a $9.50-an-hour minimum wage.

The poll surveyed 800 Minnesota adults between Feb. 10 and Feb. 12 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Three-fourths of respondents were reached through a land line, one-fourth by cellphone.

The sample included 39 percent Democrats, 30 percent Republicans and 26 percent of Minnesotans who said they were independent or identify with another party.

Effect on job growth debated

Some Minnesotans — including those who support an increase — say they harbor concerns that a higher wage could come at the price of lower job growth.

According to the poll, 31 percent of Minnesotans believe there will be a significant loss of jobs if the minimum wage is raised to $9.50. Meanwhile, 39 percent said a jump to $9.50 would cause “few or no minimum wage jobs” to be lost.

“I think $9.50 would be awfully hard on a lot of small-business owners,” said Cindy Manthei, a 55-year-old who works in a meat market. The Republican from Loretto said she wants the wage floor to go up, but only a little.

Roger Golby, a DFL activist from Annandale, said he too fears the effect of a sudden jump in wages.

“I think it should be a gradual increase and not immediate … to allow companies to slide into it,” said Golby, 64. Otherwise, he said, “There may be some layoffs.”

Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, said if the minimum wage jumped suddenly, his members would be forced to reduce jobs.

He said the fact that 37 percent of those polled support increasing the wage to something below $9.50 an hour is “somewhat encouraging.”

“I think we all know that level is going to go up,” Nustad said. He would like legislators to ask: “What’s the reasonable level that’s not overly dramatic?”

No matter what final dollar amount they land on, lawmakers will have to settle on a phase-in time for the new wage, determine which businesses would have to pay it and whether any will be exempt.

In Minnesota, about 114,000 workers were paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 or less in 2013. According to the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, more than 460,000 Minnesotans, or about 16 percent of all workers, were paid less than $9.50 an hour in 2012.

Income is a big divide

The poll found that higher-income Minnesotans were least likely to support a minimum-wage increase.

Nearly half of those earning more than $75,000 annually said the minimum wage should remain $6.15 an hour, where it has been since 2005. Most employers pay the federal minimum, although some employers are allowed to pay the lower state minimum.

According to the poll, Democrats were most comfortable with a significant increase — 64 percent said the rate should be increased to $9.50 and another 27 percent said it should be increased, but by less. Nearly all independents — 85 percent — favored an increase. So did Republicans, but by a smaller share. About 58 percent said boost wages, though only 14 percent said as high as $9.50. Another 36 percent of Republicans said keep the minimum unchanged.

“I don’t see that government has any business telling private business how much to pay their people,” said Richard Larcher, 72, of Dora Lake. “That’s just silly, and it will cost jobs.”


Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @RachelSB