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Column: DFL House to push for increase in Minnesota’s minimum wage

In his State of the Union speech last month, President Obama wisely focused on the growing economic inequality that threatens to cripple our future.

The president said, “Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by; let alone to get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.”

This is a massive crisis, and anyone who tells you there is a quick fix isn’t being honest. But there are things we can do to close that gap and allow people to be paid a workable wage and live with dignity.

Raising the minimum wage is a good start.

President Obama used his address to announce that he would issue an executive order to require federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees $10.10 an hour.

In making the announcement, he cited the example set by Minnesota’s John Soranno, who owns Punch Pizza in Minneapolis. Soranno gave all of his employees a raise to $10 an hour. He knows if a employer shows his employees that he values them and their dedication to the company, the happier and more productive the employees will be.

Simply put, paying higher wages to employees is as much an investment in a business as adding tables to a restaurant or opening another branch.That’s why the DFL House will push for a graduated increase in Minnesota’s minimum wage during the 2014 legislative session.

As it stands, Minnesota’s minimum wage is $5.25 for small employers, and $6.15 for those making more than $500,000 per year. Most employers, fortunately, pay the federal minimum wage, but that’s still only $7.25.

We will push to raise Minnesota’s minimum hourly wage to $9.50. That would mean a pay raise for 360,000 Minnesotans.

The last time Minnesota raised its minimum wage increase, in 2005, employment actually grew by 1.5 percent from 2005-2006, and average hourly wages rose 67 cents.

A 2013 study by the Economic Policy Institute shows that:

• the average age of affected workers is 35 years old

• 88 percent of all affected workers are at least 20 years old

• 35.5 percent are at least 40 years old

• 56 percent are women

• 28 percent have children

• 55 percent work full-time (35 hours per week or more)

• 44 percent have at least some college experience

There is no stereotype that fits our minimum wage workers. They are our family and neighbors. They are hurting. And we must help.

Erik Simonson (DFL) is the Minnesota state representative for District 7B.

Erik Simonson

Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, represents District 7 in the Minnesota Senate. He may be contacted at (651) 296-4188.

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