As the issue of raising the minimum wage spreads from Iowa counties to finally garnering the attention of Governor Branstad, new research shows that single workers in Iowa must be paid $15.10 per hour just to cover basic expenses. Those paying off student debt must be paid $16.74 per hour.

Waiting for the Payoff: How Low Wages and Student Debt Keep Prosperity Out of Reach, a new report from People’s Action Institute calculates living wages, both with and without student debt payments, for all 50 states and Washington, D.C.  The report shows that Iowa’s minimum wage of $7.25 represents only 48 percent of the true cost of living for a single person. For families with children, the minimum wage lags even farther behind.

  • Read the full report, titled “Waiting for the Payoff: How Low Wages and Student Debt Keep Prosperity Out of Reachhere.
  • Iowa specific data, with Polk & Story County breakdowns, can be viewed here.

Featured in the report is Iowan Tonja Galvan, who has been actively involved in the campaign to raise the minimum wage in Polk County.  Tonja notes that even though she makes what is considered a living wage, her mother and daughter do not, so along with her granddaughter all must live under the same roof just to try and make ends meet.

A living wage would allow families like Tonja’s to cover basic expenses, such as housing and utilities, and save modestly for emergencies.

With wages falling far below the cost of living, many Iowans are working two or three jobs, cutting back on essentials like food, borrowing from predatory lenders, living in vehicles, or taking other drastic measures to get by.

These figures show how modest a $15/hour wage increase proposal is. We need to raise the minimum wage to $15/hr with no exemptions and no pre-emption. We cannot put the interests of big business corporations over everyday people. It’s time to raise the wage for all Iowans.

As we move the Fight for $15 forward to the Statehouse next session, it is crucial that as many people as possible know $15/hr is not just ideal, but a researched back necessity for hundreds of thousands of Iowans.

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We’re getting closer and closer to a living wage. Let’s keep going!

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People power wins! $10.75 today, $15 tomorrow.


You probably know by now that the Polk County Supervisors voted on Tuesday, October 11th to raise the minimum wage to $10.75. When implemented, this will improve the lives of 55,000 people. That’s a big deal!

You helped make this win a reality. The Supervisors would never have enacted an increase without support, and pressure, from people like you. Thanks for  sending your emails, letters-to-the-editor and showing up and speaking out at each Supervisor meeting. Thanks for your passion and willingness to push for a wage that people can live on.

Today, we have something to celebrate. Tomorrow, we have a lot more work to do.


10.75 an hour by 2019 is a start—it’s not the final victory. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize and make $15 an hour the minimum wage reality for all Iowans.

We have momentum on our side right now. We can’t let up.

There’s critical work to be done in the next few months to:

  • Urge each city in Polk County to embrace the increase, not lower it
  • Beat back the attacks from the restaurant and grocery industries
  • Build our people-power to take the Fight for $15 to the Statehouse in January

Wages for everyday folks have been stagnant for decades, while the wealth of the corporate 1% continues to grow. In a time of rampant inequality, the Fight for $15 will be a real win for all of us—our workers, our families, our businesses, and our community. 

Learn more:

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  • Ready to take action? Contact us to learn how to get actively involved in this fight. !Hablamos español!
  • Join as an Iowa CCI member
  • Sign up for our email Action List
  • Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Fight for $15 is wrapping up at the Polk County Board of Supervisor meetings, as the Supervisors voted to raise the minimum wage to $10.75 by 2019, one step closer to a living wage of $15/hr.

However, the Supervisors took two steps back by moving forward with the youth wage (85% of minimum wage) and blindsiding the public with an amendment to freeze the tipped wage at $5/hr.

Last Tuesday, over two dozen CCI members – including teens – went head-to-head with the Supervisors, calling them out for putting the interests of the restaurant and grocery industry before the needs everyday Iowans.

Our message was loud and clear.

  • No exclusions – no freezing tipped wages and no youth wage
  • Fight for $15 – a living wage is good for workers, businesses and all of us.

Despite public outcry, the Supervisors are refusing to scrap the youth wage and tipped wage exemptions, but it’s not over!

Next week is the final reading. We need you there!

What: Fight for $15 Rally

Where: Polk County Administration Building, 111 Court Avenue

When: Final reading of ordinance at 9:30 AM (meetings have lasted an hour), rally directly proceeding hearing outside the administration building

RSVP here.

What happens in Polk County sets the tone for what happens on this issue in cities across the state and at the Statehouse. The more people that turn out, the more the Supervisors (and state leaders) will know that we’re not backing down; we’re fighting for fair!

Plug in!

Four GREAT letters-to-the-editor on the Fight for $15 in Polk County, read: 

And one AWESOME video:

This is why we need $15/hr

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Task force passes an ordinance for $10.75/hr by 2019 with a youth wage in spite of public dissent and clear disagreement by the task force itself

Over two dozen Iowa CCI members packed the room Thursday afternoon as the Polk County Minimum Wage Task Force decided on a final recommendation to the Polk County Board of Supervisors. In spite of strong vocal opposition, the Task Force voted to raise the minimum wage to $10.75/hr by 2019 with a cost of living adjustment; and to set a youth wage at 85% of the minimum wage.

Not only does recommending a separate youth wage rate not in line with the state law create a potential legal risk and put the whole ordinance at risk, it’s a blatant disregard for the hard working youth of Polk County.

“I believe that this idea promotes discrimination based on age; discrimination that is unconstitutional and as I understand, unethical. I believe that this proposal simply allows employers to take advantage of young people who will take any job that pays. I believe that this so called “youth wage” is in fact hurting the youth of Polk County,” said Iowa CCI member, Waukee High School student, and Polk County resident Michael Adato in a statement to the task force read by CCI member John Noble.

A youth wage exemption does not exist in federal law, state law, or Johnson County’s minimum wage ordinance, and including a youth wage in the Polk County ordinance is simply the Supervisors kowtowing to big business like the grocery industry.

Adato’s statement continued, “It sets a dangerous precedent of lower pay for teens-a huge market because of our expendable income…Oppose the “youth wage,” and instead, actually support our youth.”

Not only is the youth wage exemption disappointing, but the recommendation also does not go nearly far enough to help the working people of the county. Research by both the Iowa Policy Project and the United Way show that a true living wage is at least $15/hr in Polk County. With a living wage, workers in Polk County can turn around and spend that money in our local economy.

The task force’s recommendation of $10.75/hr is not near enough for Polk County residents to live, and with such a paltry increase Polk County is missing out on all of the economic benefits raising the wage could bring to our community.

Emily Schott, Worker Justice Organizer at Iowa CCI said, “The Supervisors are bowing down to big business in two ways: creating a youth wage for large corporations like the grocery industry so they can continue to hire hardworking youth at terrible wages, and creating an increase of $10.75/hr that is far less than what the people of this county need now, let alone by 2019 when it will go into full effect.”

The task force’s decision is a recommendation – the Supervisors have the ability to change any part of the recommendation. Polk County needs $15/hr, and Iowa CCI will continue to pressure the Polk County Board of Supervisors to raise the wage to a living wage without discriminatory exemptions like a youth wage.

Iowa CCI is a statewide, grassroots people’s action group that uses community organizing to win public policy that puts communities before corporations and people before profits, politics and polluters. CCI has fought to put people first for 40 years. Visit


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Polk County Needs a $15/hr Minimum Wage_MG_0665

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

Last month’s minimum wage task force meeting made it clear that a few members of the force do not want to consider $15/hour.

That’s why we need you at the task force meeting this Thursday! 

Here is what you need to know:

When: Thursday, July 14 at 2:30 pm | we are carpooling from the office (2001 Forest Ave) at 2:00 pm

Where: Polk County Admin Building, 111 Court Avenue, Des Moines — the meeting is in Room 120

What: The Polk County minimum wage task force is meeting and we need you present for a strong show of people power for $15/hour!

RSVP here

We need you there Thursday, and we need you to push the Board of Supervisors to make the right decision by flooding their inboxes. 

Tell the Supervisors Iowans need a living wage today! Take action here.


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