It's heartening to hear everyone from President Obama to Mary Burke to Craig Culver talking about raising the minimum wage, bringing it from a paltry $7.25 per hour to a slightly better $10.10 per hour.
Two weeks ago, Obama signed an executive order raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers, starting in 2015.
Republicans are sticking to their story that raising the minimum wage will dampen economic recovery, but a new study (PDF) by the UW-based Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) blows a hole in that argument.
According to the COWS figures, 404,000 workers would be directly affected by the increase. And wage increases would increase economic activity by $517 million. That would generate 3,800 new jobs.
The study also contradicts Gov. Scott Walker's assertion that "Jobs that involve the minimum wage are overwhelmingly jobs for young people starting out in the workforce," a claim he made on MSNBC in 2013.
According to COWS, 87% of the Wisconsin workers who would benefit from a raise to $10 are more than 20 years old.
Craig Culver, the CEO of the 500-restaurant chain bearing his name, told Wisconsin Public Radio last week he supports raising the minimum wage for people over 18, but having a lower floor in place for younger workers. I appreciate that Culver's offers decent benefits and even provides college scholarships to workers. And I also really appreciate that the CEO is adding to the discussion instead of shutting it down. But I worry that the fast-food industry in general might pass up older workers for young ones in a two-tiered system.
Beck Schigiel, acting director of the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin, shares a concern about a two-tiered wage. "If we are providing a teen minimum wage, that would imply that a certain sector of these jobs aren't meant to be held by adults," Schigiel wrote in an email. "Yet, what is missing from that discussion is the question of what jobs those adults are meant to have? It isn't helpful to keep pretending that adults donâ€™t hold these jobs and/or that there exist these other living wage jobs just waiting for these adults."
All of us pay the price when wages are low.
According to a report put out by the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, some 34% of fast-food workers in Wisconsin rely on public assistance to cover basic needs. That study also confirms that 67% of all front-line fast-food workers are older than 20, and 68% are the main earners in their families.
Nationwide, a study (PDF) by the National Employment Law Project says U.S. taxpayers subsidize fast-food restaurants to the tune of $3.8 billion each year while the companies pay multimillion dollar executive compensation packages.
The evidence for $10.10 is in. And it's just common sense.