The Dignity of Work
- Created on Thursday, 24 May 2012 18:49
As part of the Family Economic Security Act (which we will be putting much effort towards passing next session) we are calling for an increase in Minnesota's minimum wage. Currently our state minimum wage is set below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Historically, however, Minnesota has been one of the states that offers a higher minimum wage. During the recession we failed to keep our limit above the national standard (which most employers must adhere to).
At the beginning of the recession, in January 2009, the bi-partisan Legislative Commission to End Poverty by 2020 published its report outlining specific policy recommendations to significantly reduce poverty in our state. Since then, our elected leaders have seemingly stepped back from enacting the recommendations in light of recent budget crises, the slower than expected recovery, and a dysfunctional partisan environment.
With less than eight years to go until we reach the 2020 goal outlined in the report, we are calling on the incoming legislature to enact three key provisions of the report: fully fund child care assistance, increase the child tax credit for working families, and increase the minimum wage in our state to $9.50. Based on projections in the study, when the recommendations (which also include higher state enrollment in the federal SNAP food program, and a guarantee for some post-secondary education) are implemented they could reduce poverty by 27.4%. The three provisions of the Family Economic Security Act, the heartbeat of the Commission's recommendations, work powerfully together and would go a long way in achieving this reduction and in aiding economic recovery for those hardest hit by the downturn.
As a political issue, minimum wage policy can be a tricky area to navigate, especially in times of recession. Legislators can be fearful of hampering a delicate business sector, but the correlation between wage and a employment rates is not necessarily that simple. At JRLC our concern is that current minimum wage levels are not sufficient to provide adequately for families living in poverty, and do not act as a step out of poverty. In our issue paper on minimum wage, we say:
Every person has unassailable, God given dignity from which flows certain rights and responsibilities, including having adequate opportunity to provide for ourselves, our families and our communities. Employment is one of the primary ways by which we endeavor to achieve this. Thus, wages and benefits from employment should be adequate to meet physical requirements of forming and caring for a family.
At the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, one person working full time would make about $13,920 (before taxes). If that person has one child, their earnings are $1,210 below the federal poverty guidelines for a family of two, $15,130. How can we expect people to have dignity in their work when full time employment still means living off of public assistance? Our current minimum wage is not a living wage, and certainly does not offer a step out of poverty.
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