Polk County Needs a $15/hr Minimum Wage
By Cherie Mortice, president of the Iowa CCI Board of Directors
Appeared in the Sunday Des Moines Register on 7/31/16
Polk County needs a $15/hour minimum wage. The married mom with four kids who’s worked at a Des Moines fast food restaurant for over fifteen years making $10.50/hour needs it. The Valley High teenager who works over twenty hours a week to pay rent for him and his single working mother needs it. The single East Side grandmother who lost her job at 63 and had to take the first job she could find at $7.45/hour needs it.
The folks who need $15/hour serve our food, provide daycare for our kids, care for our elderly loved ones, clean our offices, respond to our emergencies, and deliver our mail. They make our communities run, and they can’t make ends meet.
That grandmother needs $13.44/hour just to make ends meet, and that’s without any savings for retirement, as if she can simply work until she dies. That teenager’s mother needs to make $22.82/hour to put a roof over her son’s head and allow him to focus on school. That mom and her husband each need to make $18.16/hour to support three children, so imagine what the number is with four.
These people in Polk County are everywhere and their stories are real. What is not real are the myths about raising the wage spread by corporate interests and business associations. Over seventy years of data about wage increases in the US prove that rumors of unemployment or businesses closing from higher wages aren’t the doomsday predictions they’re preached to be.
There are also plenty of myths spread about the hardworking folks who work low wage jobs. That they are lazy, undeserving, only teenagers making extra spending money, and my personal favorite – that the minimum wage they earn “was never meant to be a living wage.” That they just need to go to school, work harder, find a better job.
The truth? Raising the minimum wage, even a significant wage raise phased in over time, doesn’t cause job loss. That’s not speculation, that’s a fact. We know jobs aren’t lost because of a study of 288 neighboring counties on state lines where one state raised the wage and employment stayed the same. We know because over 600 economists wrote a letter to President Obama explaining that fact. We know because places like Seattle, Los Angeles, and our very own Johnson County raised the wage and employment levels are still the same.
The truth about low wage workers? People work really hard – often times more than one job – to support families and survive. The job they work should pay them a living wage. As FDR said when he signed legislation establishing our nation’s first minimum wage, “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country…by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level – I mean the wages of decent living.”
More truth – People with more money in their pockets spend it. They pay rent, buy food, pay for childcare, buy gas, clothes, and school supplies. Businesses hire more people because there is increased demand for their products. The local economy grows, and businesses benefit even after lobbying against a wage increase.
Polk County can reap the benefits of raising the wage – but only if the Board of Supervisors works for the welfare of the people they represent. Now is the time for bold action that is good for our communities, good for our workers, and good for our businesses. Polk County Supervisors, raise the wage to $15/hour.
Cherie Mortice is a Des Moines resident and president of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement board of directors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org