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Supporters of raising minimum wage point to gender gap in Minnesota

Supporters of raising minimum wage point to gender gap in Minnesota
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
About seven in 10 minimum-wage workers in Minnesota are women, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

Advocates for raising Minnesota’s minimum wage are sharpening their arguments as they await the start of next week’s legislative session, and some are now focusing on a pitch that so far hasn’t had a lot of attention: gender.

About seven in 10 minimum-wage workers in Minnesota are women, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

The minimum wage is in the spotlight again this session since both the Minnesota House and Senate last year passed bills which would raise the minimum, though they could not reconcile their differences. This session House Democrats and Gov. Mark Dayton advocate for a $9.50 per hour wage. Some senators call for a lower minimum wage of $7.75 per hour.

The St. Paul-based JOBS NOW Coalition, a long-time supporter of a significant bump in the minimum wage, is “trying to draw a short, straight line between women in poverty and all women,’’ trying to align all women behind the drive to raise the minimum wage in Minnesota, says JOBS NOW Coalition executive director Kris Jacobs.

It’s a matter of fairness, Jacobs says. “Since women are the majority of low-wage workers, raising the minimum wage would help close the persistent gender pay gap,’’ Jacobs argues. “It’s really shameful: we’re still at 80 cents on the dollar and a major way to get at that is to raise the minimum wage.”

The pay gap is even larger for women of color, Jacobs says, quoting research that shows in Minnesota black women working full time and year-round make only 64 cents and Hispanic women only 55 cents for every dollar paid to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts.’’

Most minimum-wage workers in Minnesota are paid the federal rate of $7.25 an hour, but some businesses not involved in inter-state commerce can pay the state minimum wage of $6.15 an hour.

If the wage rate rose to $9.50 an hour, Minnesota women would see a total increase in wages of $257 million, Jacobs says.

“It’s a civil rights and a women’s issue for the most part,’’ says Susan Sheridan Tucker, pointing to the gaps. Tucker heads up League of Women Voters Minnesota, one of nearly 60 groups – nonprofits, labor and others — who have banded together to support a wage raise.

Looking at things from the women’s perspective isn’t new, says Jennifer Schaubach, legislative director for Minnesota AFL-CIO, “it just hasn’t been out there.’’

The union is also throwing its weight behind increases.  “People who work full time shouldn’t live in poverty,’’ Schaubach said, noting that years ago with her first husband serving in the military, she worked two minimum wage restaurant jobs to make ends meet.

About 101,000 jobs in Minnesota paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour or less in 2012, according to the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. Broaden the category to include jobs paying as much as $9.50 an hour, and that figure jumps to 460,000 jobs.

Even at $10 an hour the wage rate falls short of a “family-supporting wage,’’ according to JOBS NOW.

Kevin Ristau, education director for the group, says a livable wage for an average family of four living in the Twin Cities metro area is two workers each making about $15 an hour.  

While anti-poverty advocates argue raising the wage is a significant step on the ladder out of poverty, business owners fear the costs and maintain in part that it is not heads of households but teenagers and second-job holders working minimum wage jobs.  

A new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has added fodder to the discussion. The CBO says a $10.10 minimum wage would lift 900,000 people out of poverty and raise wages for 16.5 million workers but could endanger 500,000 jobs.

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