State Sen. Melissa Agard
Op Ed

Wisconsin Needs $15 Minimum Wage

Raising the minimum wage would create jobs and support working families.

By - Jul 9th, 2021 03:05 pm
Justice for Janitors Day. Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization.

Justice for Janitors Day. File photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization.

The last time the minimum wage was raised in Wisconsin, “I’ve Got a Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas was the number one song in the country and Windows 7 had just been released.

It is shameful that it has been more than 4,300 days since we have increased our wage floor. During that time, the cost of living and wealth disparities have increased across the country. While the simple fact that no one working 40 hours per week should live in poverty should be reason enough, increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour would benefit everyone in Wisconsin in various ways.

Increasing wages will help the economy

Increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour would have tangible, positive effects on our state’s economy. With more money in the pockets of low-wage workers, we would see a boost in economic activity as folks spend their earnings in local communities across Wisconsin.  The Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) also did a study that found raising wages to even $10.10 per hour would result in an increase of 3,800 new jobs.

$7.25 is simply not a living wage and inflation over time has further exacerbated the problem. An increase in wages would help workers catch up with higher prices for everyday goods. It’s a win-win. Workers would be able to provide for their family and businesses would benefit from customers having more spending power. Simply put, our current minimum wage is a relic from another era not reflective of our current economic reality.

It would help our border communities

Both Minnesota and Illinois have a higher minimum wage than Wisconsin. Where do you think hourly workers in Wisconsin’s border communities choose to bring their labor, especially if they are in a low wage job? Of course they work across state lines where they can earn more money for themselves and their family. Our lower wages are hurting these Wisconsin communities in their ability to find good workers during a tight labor market.

Women and communities of color would get a well-deserved raise

With a $15 per hour minimum wage, we would help bring equity to underserved communities. Half of Black workers in Wisconsin would see a raise. Over half of Hispanic workers would benefit. And 37% of women workers in the state would get a pay increase.

These statistics matter because raising the wage will address fundamental injustices in our society – the wage gap that women and communities of color deal with in workplaces every single day. Recent research from Pew shows that in 2020, women earned 84% of what men earned. Likewise, there is a persistent wage gap between white workers and workers of color.

Addressing Income Inequality

When the CEO of a corporation like McDonald’s is making more in an hour than their median employees make in a year – we have a problem. In addition, wages in the U.S. from 2000 to 2018 were nearly stagnant with the growth in household income slowing to an average annual rate of only 0.3%. Meanwhile, during the pandemic, roughly 650 billionaires in America saw their net worth increase by more than $1 trillion.

Recognizing all work as essential

Too often, low wage workers are made to feel invisible. Janitors, grocery store employees, CNAs, child care workers. These folks do the exhausting, gritty work needed to keep our community functioning during a global pandemic. We cheer for them. We thank them for the job they do. But thankful gestures don’t pay the bills. If we truly want to honor their labor, we must recognize that an honest day’s work deserves an honest wage.

My dad always used to tell me as a kid to not complain about a problem without a solution – and creating a $15 per hour wage floor will provide solutions for many issues our state and country are facing. While there is more work to do to address income inequality, recognize essential work, and make our economy work for everyone – the absolute least we can do is to ensure those who work hard are not earning poverty wages.

Folks, it’s time to raise the wage. In the richest country on the planet, no one should work full time and live in poverty. But that is happening every single day. Right here in our state. Let’s begin the process of making this a state of opportunity again, one where our children can dare to dream.

Sen. Melissa Agard, D-Madison, is a member of the Wisconsin State Senate.

Categories: Business, Op-Ed, Politics

3 thoughts on “Op Ed: Wisconsin Needs $15 Minimum Wage”

  1. sbaldwin001 says:

    An increase in our minimum wage is certainly in order, and we have a large problem with our growing income gap. However, I worry a $15/hour minimum wage will only increase the exporting of entry-level employment to other countries and increase automation where that is not possible. It will not address the income gap. We Americans have a very high quality of life in comparison to the rest of the world, and it is increasingly harder to justify in terms of our education and skills.

    A better solution would be to increase the taxes on our ultra-rich. This can be done by demanding it from our political representatives and from our political parties. Unfortunately, we are, instead, subsidizing the businesses of the ultra-rich with amenities such as public bus service to Amazon.

  2. GodzillakingMKE says:

    If adjusted via Cola the wage should actually be close to 25 an hour.

  3. sbaldwin001 says:

    @GodzillakingMKE

    You are making my point. The Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) is for maintaining our current standard of living, and I unabashedly believe this must change. Also, I do not believe a lower standard of living means a lower quality of life. It simply means a less consumptive lifestyle – a lower carbon footprint.

    We can make this change ourselves, or we can allow economics and competition from other nations to do it for us. However, if we do it ourselves, it is on our terms. If we allow economics to do it for us, we may not like the way it turns out.

    The world can not sustain everyone living an American lifestyle. Nor can it sustain everyone living in destitution. The top must come down and the bottom must move up. Again, if we do this ourselves, it will be on our terms. If we allow nature to do this for us, we may not like how it turns out.

    By the way, COLA and a $15/hr minimum do not account for Milwaukee’s very low cost of living. Our low cost of living is one of our biggest economic advantages. We do not want to lose it. Minneapolis and Chicago can sustain a $15/hr minimum wage. However, in Milwaukee, potential growth, especially for entry-level employment, would be choked-off at that wage. Milwaukee would be much better at $10 to $12/hr.

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