Mayors take up call for $9.50 minimum wage

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman talks about what a $9.50 minimum wage would mean for his city, as Hibbing Mayor Rick Cannata looks on.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman talks about what a $9.50 minimum wage would mean for his city, as Hibbing Mayor Rick Cannata looks on.

Raising the minimum wage to $9.50 would boost the paychecks of an estimated 20,000 workers in St. Paul, injecting $27 million into the city’s economy. In Minneapolis 30,000 workers would get a raise, a $40 million bump for the city’s economy.

It’s no surprise, then, that both Twin Cities mayors today added theirs to the growing chorus of voices calling on lawmakers to make raising Minnesota’s minimum wage a top priority when the Legislature returns to session Feb. 25.

“This is the wealthiest nation on earth, and no one should have to live in poverty,” St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said. “But unfortunately, the current minimum-wage level is forcing too many of our families into that situation.

“If you work hard, you should get rewarded for that work.”

Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges joined other Minnesota mayors at the Capitol today for a press conference organized by the labor-backed Raise the Wage Coalition, which is pushing a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 per hour, and adjust the wage annually for inflation.

[Related: “It’s time for Senate to act on minimum wage“]

Both Coleman and Hodges identified raising the minimum wage as an effective way to combat rising income inequality. Minneapolis’ economy is recovering from the Great Recession, Hodges said, but “low-wage workers, people of color are not reaping the same benefits of the recovery as other people are.

“Raising the minimum wage is crucial to ensuring that people who work for a living, can make a living. We need (legislators) to take action on this.”

Income inequality isn’t just an urban problem. On the state’s Iron Range, Hibbing Mayor Rick Cannata said, there are good-paying jobs in the mining industry and minimum-wage jobs like the one his wife holds down – but not much in between.

“You see neighbors who can’t decide what they want to do, feed their families or buy fuel oil,” Cannata said. “That’s why I’m here today.”

According to an economic analysis by the JOBS NOW Coalition, raising the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015 would boost purchasing power statewide by $470 million, as low-income workers and families are much more likely than middle- or upper-income families to spend most – or all – of what they earn on goods and services.

“The people at minimum wage now can’t go out to support the mom-and-pop stores on Main Street,” Cannata said. “You get a couple dollars more in your wage, you’re going to go out and spend that.”

Mayors also offered a strong rebuke to opponents who say the minimum wage was never intended to support an adult, let alone a family. Instead, they say, it is an entry-level or “training” wage for teenagers and young adults seeking employment experience.

In fact, a report issued by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry last month found 40 percent of the state’s minimum-wage earners are older than 24.

“If it is a training wage, then there are people who have been in training for years if not decades,” Hodges said.

“It’s a quaint notion that it’s kids working at Dairy Queen” who earn the minimum wage, Coleman added.

[Click here to take action in support of raising the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015!]

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