Linn County should raise the minimum wage

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Rob Hogg and Wally Horn, guest columnists

Together, we represent over 120,000 citizens in Linn County. We both support raising the minimum wage as part of an overall economic strategy to help working families and create broad prosperity.

In 2015, we both voted yes when the Iowa Senate passed legislation (SF269) to raise the minimum wage, but the Iowa House under Republican leadership refused to take up that legislation for a vote in either 2015 or 2016.

In the absence of state legislation, we believe that Linn County, and the cities and towns in Linn County including Cedar Rapids, should move forward with raising the minimum wage. Here’s why.

Every job should pay a living wage. While no one should expect to get rich earning the minimum wage, no full-time worker should live in poverty.

Yet, we know from our constituents that too many workers are having trouble making ends meet.

A recent study by the Iowa Policy Project confirms that almost one in five households in Iowa — and more than 60 percent of single-parent families — do not earn enough to meet a basic-needs budget that includes food, housing, clothing, health care, transportation, and child care.

According to a 2015 community condition report by the United Way of East Central Iowa, nearly one third of our children today are in single-parent families. A single parent with only one child in Linn County needs to earn more than $21 per hour to meet a basic-needs budget without public services.

Even for married couples, who may not need to earn as much per hour to meet a basic-needs budget if one stays home to care for the children or if both work, they still require wages over $12 per hour — well above today’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

The minimum wage is important to these families. Statewide, one fourth of the workers who would be directly affected by an increase to $12 per hour have children at home, and more than 4 out of 5 are 20 years old or older.

Over half of workers below the $12 per hour wage are working full time. On average, their earnings account for over half of their family’s income.

The low-wage economy is not working. Living costs, according to the United Way report, are going up faster than the median wage.

Keeping the minimum wage down creates a drag on wages for all workers, and forces more workers to seek public services just to survive. It is wrong to let employers “outsource” part of their costs to taxpayers by making their employees rely on public services.

The minimum wage was intended to serve as a floor below which no worker could fall. It has not kept pace with inflation. It is an important policy to reward work and broaden prosperity.

Raising the minimum wage will strengthen our local economy. Studies consistently show that increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour or more would increase local economic activity. That’s because workers would spend much of their increased earnings locally, and higher wages would attract more workers, creating even more economic activity.

All of our neighboring states except one have a higher minimum wage than Iowa does. Minnesota has the highest minimum wage in our region, and it also has the fastest-growing, highest-wage economy in our region. Even Nebraska and South Dakota have higher minimum wages.

Now, so does Johnson County, currently $9.15 per hour, and going to $10.10 per hour on January 1, 2017. After years of working together to create an economic region — the Corridor — Linn County should move forward with a similar minimum wage increase so that workers know this region is an attractive place to live and work.

It is common sense that the minimum wage, stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2008, needs to be increased periodically to keep pace with inflation. Raising the minimum wage also holds the promise of a better economy for working families and broader prosperity. In Iowa, we need to raise the wage, even if we have to do it one county at a time.

• Rob Hogg is a state senator representing Senate District 33 in Cedar Rapids. Wally Horn is a state senator representing Senate District 35 in Cedar Rapids, Fairfax, Walford, and neighboring parts of southwest Linn County. Comments: rob.hogg@legis.iowa.gov; wally.horn@legis.iowa.gov

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