Minnesota raises state minimum wage; teachers say hike will benefit kids

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (PAI & Workday Minnesota) - More than 325,000 of Minnesota's lowest-wage workers just got a raise. Joined in the Capitol Rotunda on April 14 by legislators, advocates and Minnesotans from across the state, Gov. Mark Dayton, DFL-Minn., signed a bill into law raising Minnesota's minimum wage for the first time since 2005.

The new law increases the state minimum wage to $9.50 per hour by 2016, and indexes it to inflation to help ensure Minnesotans' wages keep up with the cost of living. The state's teachers' unions say the increase will help the kids they instruct, too.

With strong union backing and lobbying, Minnesota became the latest state to raise its minimum wage this year. Two other recent hikes occurred in Connecticut, where it will increase to $10.10 hourly by 2016, and Maryland, where it will rise to $10.10 hourly by 2018.

Minnesota, Connecticut, Maryland and other states are not waiting for the dysfunctional U.S. Congress to raise the wage to $10.10 by 2016, as Democratic President Barack Obama and unions advocate. They're going ahead on their own.

"Minnesotans who work full-time should be able to earn enough money to lift their families out of poverty, and through hard work and additional training, achieve the middle-class American Dream," said Gov. Dayton. "Raising the minimum wage to $9.50, and indexing it to inflation, will improve the lives of over 325,000 hard-working Minnesotans. I thank the legislature for recognizing the need to make work pay in Minnesota."

Obama congratulated Minnesota for improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of hard-working families. He said Dayton and state lawmakers are "giving more hardworking Minnesotans the raise they deserve."

Before today, at $6.15 per hour Minnesota had one of the lowest minimum wages in the nation-lower than neighboring Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota. In fact, Minnesota was one of only four states in the country with a minimum wage below the national rate of $7.25 per hour.

The bill's lead authors, Rep. Ryan Winkler and Sen. Jeff Hayden, said the increase will make work pay again in Minnesota. "We believe all Minnesotans deserve the dignity of supporting themselves and their families through hard work," said Winkler. "Raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation is an important step to create a rising floor for all wages that will benefit hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who work hard and deserve to get ahead."

Raising the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour will add an estimated $472 million to the pockets of Minnesota's lowest-wage workers each year. Many economists agree that when minimum wage workers get a raise, they often spend those new wages on basic necessities, goods, and services. That increase in consumer spending is expected to help local businesses in Minnesota communities, and provide another boost to its economy.

"Today represents a big step forward for low-wage workers in our community," said Hayden. "We rely on these workers every day, yet many cannot support their own families. Raising the minimum wage is part of a larger effort to lift up the working poor and ensure all Minnesotans have the opportunity to earn enough to get by."

Under the previous state minimum wage of $6.15 per hour, a single parent with two children working full-time earned an annual salary of $12,792. That is $7,000 below the poverty line. Raising the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour will put another $6,970 in that parent's pocket, helping them earn more to provide for their family.

The bill phases in increases in the minimum wage over the next several years. To help small businesses, it establishes lower minimum wage requirements for small employers and young workers. Starting in 2018, Minnesota's minimum wage will be indexed to inflation to help ensure Minnesotans' wages keep up with the cost of living.

Minnesota's minimum wage hike will benefit Minnesota children, educators said. "This has always been an education issue for us," said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, a joint AFT-NEA affiliate that represents 70,000 teachers, education support professionals, faculty and others in districts and campuses statewide.

"Now that 40 percent of Minnesota children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, Minnesota educators see the toll that poverty-level wages take on the children of working families every day," she said.

"Too many parents spend all their time and energy holding down two or three minimum-wage jobs just to make ends meet," Specht said. "We believe raising the minimum wage will give those parents enough breathing room to assist in their children's formal education. Parents have always been their children's first and most important teacher."

Service Employees Local 284 member Mike Poke, a custodian in the Wayzata schools, said the increase will improve life for low-wage workers and families. "For the children I see in our schools every day who have parents struggling to make ends meet, raising the minimum wage in Minnesota is an important step," Poke said. "We see too many parents who work hard but are unable to afford basic necessities for their children. This will put more money in pockets of families, which benefits the children." 

Photo: Surrounded by Minnesotans, Governor Mark Dayton signed legislation raising the state's minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2016. Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Mark Dayton

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