OP-ED – For Release 10-6-14
A GRIM PICTURE–MINIMUM WAGE
by Mary Ann Ahrens, West Des Moines, Iowa
We hear much talk about growing Iowa and increasing our economic development base. We know that, in order to grow Iowa and recruit new business, one must have a trained workforce that earns living wages.
The reality is that we have thousands of workers in Iowa earning minimum wages that have not kept pace with inflation.
It is unconscionable that our 2014 Iowa Legislature and Congress could not find it possible to address/increase the minimum wage. Could it be that it is an election year? The latest results from CNN’s Money American Dream Poll show 71% of the public supports raising the minimum wage. In Iowa 65% of the people support raising the minimum wage including 45% of Iowa Republicans (Center for American Progress Action Fund—Iowa Survey).
I wonder how many of our elected officials, business and institutional executives, etc. could live on $15,080 a year – the amount a full-time minimum wage earner makes before taxes and without any vacation. Perhaps elected officials/ executives need to switch places with minimum wage earners and walk in their shoes.
We hear a lot of rhetoric about religious values and morals, but see no action to adequately value/reward our working poor in this state. These are the people who produce the goods and services that make it possible for businesses to keep their doors open and earn profits.
We also hear much talk about employee performance issues. Consider that many employees living on minimum wages are hungry, do not have adequate housing, child care, transportation, or health insurance. Why might they be absent and not performing well? Could it be that they or their family members are ill or struggling with child care or transportation issues?
The current minimum wage, which has been at $7.25 per hour since 2009, leaves almost 50 million Americans in poverty. In Iowa an increase in minimum wage would benefit 306,000 workers. Fifty-eight percent are women working at low-wage, under-valued jobs. If Iowa would join the 23 states and the District of Columbia which have a minimum wage higher than the federal level, the increase potentially would lift more than 23,000 Iowans out of poverty.
The Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO policy recommendation is to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour in support of the 2013 Fair Minimum Wage Act introduced by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller of California. It would raise wages in three increments and index it to inflation. If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since 1968 when it was $1.60 per hour, it would be $10.86 today.
A 2013 survey conducted by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business indicates that leading economists agree by a 4 to 1 margin that the benefits of raising and indexing the minimum wage far outweigh the costs. Other studies cite the following benefits: higher employee productivity, lower turnover, decreased absenteeism, increased worker morale, fewer disciplinary issues, and improved customer service. A brighter picture.
Shouldn’t a full time job be a bridge out of poverty and an opportunity to make a living wage through hard work?
Is Iowa the land of opportunity? If so, for whom? We must change this picture. We have an opportunity and responsibility in the November election to support candidates/elected officials who will help people achieve the American Dream. Use your vote. Vote Democratic! We can create a new picture.
Mary Ann Ahrens
West Des Moines, IA