by State Sen. Bob Wirch

As Wisconsin’s economy continues to struggle and working families find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet, there is a small step the state can take that would have a profound and immediate impact: we need to raise the minimum wage.

In 1913, Wisconsin became one of the first states to enact a minimum wage law, designed to lift workers out of poverty and stimulate the economy. Unfortunately, rare increases in the minimum wage, along with the increasing strain on our social safety net programs, have meant that low-wage workers continue to fall further and further behind, dragging our economy down in the process. For the past several sessions, I have introduced legislation which would modestly boost the state’s minimum wage to $7.60 per hour and tie future raises to an increase in inflation, taking politics out of the process and assuring that the rate will keep pace with the rising cost of living. I have authored the measure again this year, and it’s time for Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) and Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown), chairs of the Legislature’s Labor Committees, to hold a hearing and take a serious look at the tremendous benefits this plan offers.

Opponents of minimum wage increases often claim that it is bad for business, labeling it a “job killer”. History shows that the opposite is true. Raising the minimum wage puts more money in the pockets of working families. Low-wage workers are more likely than any other group to spend any extra earnings, usually because they don’t have a choice – they have bills to pay and mouths to feed. The additional household spending benefits businesses in our communities, translating into job growth. An analysis of states with minimum wages higher than the federal floor between 1998 and 2003 showed stronger job growth than in states that kept the lower federal level; a 2006 study by the Fiscal Policy Institute found states that raised their minimum wages had faster small business and overall retail growth than states where the lower federal minimum wage prevailed. Economists and employers alike have cited higher productivity, decreased turnover, lower recruiting and training costs, decreased absenteeism, and increased worker morale as additional benefits of a wage increase.

Raising the state’s minimum wage and indexing it to inflation should not be a partisan or controversial idea. Polling across the country has shown broad bipartisan support. Red and blue states alike – New Jersey, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Florida, and Washington – have put the issue on the ballot in recent years, and all received overwhelming approval. Similarly, indexing provisions have been enacted in eleven states, from all parts of the country and all along the political spectrum. These moves are popular because they provide greater stability to working families and the economy and they put the needs of people above politics. The Center on Wisconsin Strategy estimates that raising our minimum wage to $7.60 per hour would benefit at least 316,000 working people in our state. Wisconsin should follow the lead of these other states and act on these changes.

State Senator Bob Wirch, D-Somers, represents the 22nd Senate District.

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