$15 min­i­mum wage needed, Dems say

The Columbus Dispatch - - Metro&state - By Jim Siegel jsiegel@dis­patch.com @phront­page

Ohio Demo­cratic law­mak­ers are call­ing for a $15 statewide min­i­mum wage by 2025, say­ing a “mod­ern­iza­tion” of Ohio wages is needed.

For too long, talk at the State­house has fo­cused on tax cuts for busi­nesses, ex­pect­ing they will fuel the econ­omy, said Sen. Joe Schi­avoni, D-Board­man, a can­di­date for gov­er­nor.

“You can’t just give peo­ple money back and just hope and pray that they in­vest it in their peo­ple,” he said. “There has to be a con­ver­sa­tion about work­ers.”

As he trav­els the state, Schi­avoni said, he hears peo­ple talk about want­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to raise their fam­i­lies and grow in the state.

“But if they can’t make a liv­able wage, it’s not hap­pen­ing,” he said. “What I’ve seen in the Se­nate for the last nine years is a lot of tax cut­ting for the high­est earn­ers in the state while ev­ery­one else gets some scraps. That doesn’t give that per­son a fight­ing chance.”

Un­der the pro­posal, the min­i­mum wage would jump to $12 per hour in 2019 — a 45 per­cent in­crease from the cur­rent rate — then in­crease 50 cents per year un­til it reaches $15 by 2025.

Un­der a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment ap­proved by vot­ers in 2006, the state min­i­mum wage rises each year by the rate of in­fla­tion. In Jan­uary, that meant a 1.9 per­cent in­crease, tak­ing it from $8.15 per hour to $8.30. For tipped work­ers, it rose to $4.15.

The largest in­crease since 2006 was 30 cents in both 2009 and 2012.

“When you’re talk­ing about the bot­tom line of be­ing able to take care of your fam­ily, 30 cents or less per year is not go­ing to cut it,” said Rep. Brigid Kelly, D-Cincin­nati.

“There is more wealth in our coun­try than ever be­fore, but most of it is con­cen­trated in the hands of the few, the su­per-rich at the top.”

A bill to ac­cel­er­ate the rate of in­crease is un­likely to get much sup­port in the Repub­li­can-dom­i­nated leg­is­la­ture.

“The peo­ple of Ohio ad­dressed that is­sue awhile back with a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment, and we should honor that,” said Rep. Kirk Schur­ing, R-Can­ton, the No. 2 House leader. “We should stick with it. We wanted a for­mula we could fol­low for decades to come.”

The fed­eral min­i­mum wage is $7.25 per hour, a rate that has not changed since 2009. That rate ap­plies in Ohio to com­pa­nies with an­nual gross re­ceipts of $305,000 or less, and for 14- and 15-year-olds.

Chris Fer­ruso, leg­isla­tive di­rec­tor for the NFIB/Ohio, which rep­re­sents thou­sands of small busi­nesses, said the group op­poses ar­ti­fi­cially set­ting wages with “one-siz­e­fits-all govern­ment edicts.”

Busi­nesses pay what they can, and rais­ing the min­i­mum wage to $15 per hour would have vary­ing im­pacts on dif­fer­ent types of com­pa­nies, he said.

“You can’t raise your prices, nec­es­sar­ily, to ac­com­mo­date that,” Fer­ruso said. “At some point the pres­sure be­comes too great and the cus­tomers go away. Does that mean you re­duce the num­ber of staff you have to ac­com­mo­date this govern­ment man­date?”

Twelve states and the District of Columbia, which has the high­est rate at $13.25, have min­i­mum wage rates in 2018 of $10 an hour or more.

“No one who works full time in our state should live in poverty. I want a bet­ter fu­ture for my fam­ily, but I can’t do it mak­ing less than $15 per hour.”

— Chaun­dra Kidd, a nurs­ing home worker in Cleve­land

The high­est state rate is Wash­ing­ton at $11.50.

Re­search says an in­crease in Ohio is over­due, said Han­nah Hal­bert, work­force re­searcher for Pol­icy Mat­ters Ohio, a lib­eral re­search and ad­vo­cacy group. The state econ­omy has grown 65 per­cent in a gen­er­a­tion, she said, but, when ac­count­ing for in­fla­tion, many work­ers have seen wages de­cline com­pared with the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion.

Seven of Ohio’s 10 most com­mon jobs, Hal­bert said, have an an­nual me­dian wage of less than 130 per­cent of the fed­eral poverty level for a fam­ily of three. In­creas­ing the min­i­mum wage to $15 per hour would give 1.8 mil­lion Ohio work­ers a pay raise, she said, and help re­duce both gen­der and racial in­come gaps.

“It would sim­ply re­store some of the lost pur­chas­ing power, help­ing work­ing fam­i­lies and in­creas­ing lo­cal spend­ing,” she said.

For Chaun­dra Kidd, a nurs­ing home worker in Cleve­land, the in­crease is about pay­ing bills and dig­nity for the work she does.

“No one who works full time in our state should live in poverty,” she said. “I want a bet­ter fu­ture for my fam­ily, but I can’t do it mak­ing less than $15 per hour.”

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