One of the keys to building a strong middle class is providing more economic security to working families.
Right now, there are over 306,000 Iowans earning the minimum wage who have not had a raise in nearly eight years.
Over the last 30 years, the minimum wage has failed to keep up with the rising costs families face in health care, food, and raising a family.
If the wage had kept up with inflation, the minimum wage would currently be $10.74 an hour. The current wage of $7.25 has 78% of the purchasing power it did in 1968.
Until the early 1980’s, minimum wage was enough to support a family of two above the poverty line. Today, working full time, 52 weeks a year leads to a salary of $15,080, below the poverty line of families of two. For a family of three to stay above the poverty line, the minimum wage would need to be raised to $10.10.
Low wages for hard working Iowans is also a factor in Iowa’s rising poverty rate. Today, more than 40% of Iowa children are eligible for free or reduced lunch, up from 27% just ten years ago.
Contrary to popular belief, the majority of minimum wage workers are not teenagers. Eighty-one percent of workers benefiting from the wage increase are over 20 years old. Since 58% of minimum wage workers are women, it also disproportionally impacts women and children.
Raising the minimum wage isn’t just good for Iowa workers, it’s also good for our economy. It would mean a pay raise for 306,000 Iowans and the new money injected into the economy would lead to an estimated 1,400 new jobs.
In fact, according to the Department of Labor, the 13 states that raised their minimum wage in January, 2014, have experienced faster job growth than states that did not.
During the 2014 legislative sessions, 34 states considered raising the minimum wage, with 10 states raising the wage (Minnesota, Michigan, West Virginia, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont). During the 2014 election four states (Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota) approved minimum wage increases through ballot measures in the 2014 general election; Illinois voters approved an advisory measure.
Currently, 29 states have minimum wages above Iowa’s rate, including our neighbors Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Illinois.
Iowans are also solidly behind raising wages for Iowans. Two polls out last year found 65% of Iowans supported increasing the minimum wage while just 31% opposed raising the wage. There was also broad support in both urban and rural areas.
With broad popular support and a strong economic case, raising the minimum wage is a something the legislature should act on this year.
After eight years without a raise, 306,000 Iowans deserve it.