Milwaukee, Wisconsin 2021-07-22 07:00:00 –
For 26-year-old Olivia McKnight, raising the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour will change her life.
As a full-time employee of Popeyes in Milwaukee, McKnight earns $ 10 an hour. This is almost not enough to support herself and her three children. She also has a second job. Due to her long working hours, she missed the time she spent with her children, such as holidays and important life moments.
For 29-year-old James Rudd, who now earns over $ 15 an hour, he’s finally able to pay for what he needs. And he is currently fighting for all Wisconsin workers to reach at least $ 15 per hour.
In contrast to McKnight, Rudd’s maintenance work at AT & T’s Milwaukee office made his life easier by cleaning the floor and replacing the light bulbs. He can afford to pay for health insurance and bus fares and can keep his bills up to date. All of this was out of reach when I earned $ 7.25 or $ 8 per hour.
That’s where McKnight is now.
“I try to pay my family daily, monthly rent, electricity and lighting, and look for babysitters,” she said. “It’s definitely hard, it takes most of my time, and it seems I’m working mostly for a penny.”
Approximately 1 million hourly workers nationwide Earn a federal minimum wage of $ 7.25 or less per hour.. As others are fed up with low incomes, McKnight recently participated in the $ 15 battle, a global political movement working to raise the minimum wage for all low-wage workers. did.
In Wisconsin, which has the largest racial wealth and income inequality in the country, many feel that raising the minimum is far behind. According to a 2019 Marquette Law School poll, 55% of Wisconsins support a minimum wage increase and 39% oppose it. And black women like McKnight are among those who will benefit most from it.
Blacks and Hispanic women are more than twice as likely to earn less than $ 15 an hour as white men, according to the report. Calculation by The Washington Post Use federal job listings. Approximately 46% of Hispanic women and 39% of black women earn less than $ 15 an hour, while only 18% of white and Asian men earn less than $ 15 an hour. In Wisconsin Estimated 43.7% of residents
Earn less than $ 15 per hour.
Due to grassroots movements such as the $ 15 fight and rising political support, eight states and the District of Columbia have already passed legislation to raise wages to $ 15 per hour. Most recently, Florida. University of California, Berkeley Labor Center..
But it’s not Wisconsin. It’s one of 21 states with a minimum wage of $ 7.25 per hour at federal levels. In the other 10 states, the minimum is higher, but still less than $ 10, the UC Berkeley Labor Center reports.
Legislators, activists and members of the community organized federal and state-level wage changes long before the Democratic Party failed to include the federal minimum wage of $ 15 in the pandemic relief package passed in February 2021. We have been lobbying and making suggestions.
In January, the Democratic Party Raise the wage lawThis will gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $ 15 per hour by 2025, preventing wages below the minimum wage for workers with tips. Under the bill, the minimum wage will soon be raised to $ 9.50 per hour, $ 11 per hour next year, $ 12.50 in 2023, $ 14 in 2024, and $ 15 in 2025. A Similar bill Introduced in 2019, it never cleared the Republican-controlled Senate.
The main reason why the minimum wage bill is stuck: Opponents argue that raising it will force many companies to close or reduce their workforce, resulting in less work.
Recently Congressional Budget Office Report It is estimated that nearly one million people will get out of poverty if a minimum of $ 15 per hour is implemented nationwide, but employment will be reduced by 1.4 million workers. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, a powerful business lobby, argues that raising the minimum wage will reduce the opportunities for entry-level workers by making companies more expensive to hire them. ..
Huge economic disparity
Low wages have long been a problem for colored workers in Wisconsin. Median black household income in Milwaukee has fallen by almost 30% since 1979. In fact, the median household income for blacks is $ 29,655, the lowest of the top 50 metropolitan areas in the United States, and only 42% of the median household income for whites. It was $ 70,561 in 2018.It according to 2020 Research It was by the Milwaukee Center for Economic Development, University of Wisconsin, and managed living expenses while comparing metropolitan areas.
“I think it’s a deep discovery,” said Mark Levine, co-founder of the center that led the study. “It tells us a lot about what’s happening in Milwaukee today, and how much it hasn’t progressed, as well as our history.”
Levine’s recent research focuses on the black community and how it works in the 50 metropolitan areas of the United States on issues such as housing isolation, imprisonment, poverty, and income. In almost all measurements, Milwaukee comes out at or near the bottom. Wisconsin’s largest city “represents the archetype of racial apartheid and inequality in modern metropolitan cities,” he said.
Differences in educational background do not explain income disparities. According to Levine, Milwaukee can employ more than twice as many white high school dropouts as black high school dropouts.In fact, white dropouts have higher employment rates than black workers Those who graduated from high school..
“When we talk about raising the minimum wage and fighting 15 battles, we can see how important it is to black Milwaukee, given that black men earn very low wages,” Levine told Wisconsin Watch. “My estimate is that nearly 40-45% of Milwaukee’s black workers will benefit from raising the minimum wage to $ 15 per hour.”
Lack of raise “shameful”
For Senator Melissa Agard of Wisconsin, the issue of raising the minimum wage is a moral issue. She said that so many people in the state, who work 40 hours a week and are disproportionately colored, still cannot take care of themselves and their families with dignity.
On June 17, Agard announced that it would reintroduce a law to raise the Wisconsin minimum wage to $ 15. She said she was “embarrassed” and “embarrassed” since the state’s minimum hourly wage was frozen at $ 7.25. 2009..
Many minimum-wage workers are forced to rely on state-based public support programs that cost billions of dollars. According to Agard, addressing income inequality by raising the minimum wage will help people better support themselves and their families, thus actually saving state funding for government-funded support programs. There is a possibility that it can be done.
“Rising wages mean fewer people rely on government support for food, medical care and other necessities,” she said. “In the wealthiest countries on the planet, no one should work full-time and live in poverty.”
The· UC Berkeley Labor Center
Forty-five percent of Wisconsin workers who receive a salary increase if the Wage Raise Act is passed are currently enrolled in one or more public support programs such as Medicaid, Food Share, and Earned Income Tax Credit. understood. The Labor Center estimates that employees of these working classes receive an estimated $ 2.4 billion in support from Wisconsin’s public support program.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is the main voice against the increase in the minimum wage. This group should focus on training workers and encouraging young professionals and college graduates to stay in the state, as the biggest problem facing employers is the shortage of skilled workers. Claims to be.
A strong business group did not respond to requests for comment. However, in its legislative agenda, WMC said, “Increasing the minimum wage increases the cost of hiring entry-level workers, and as a result, the workforce that needs to build skills and experience for their careers. There will be less employment opportunities for workers entering. ”
In addition, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that job cuts would increase spending on programs such as unemployment compensation. They also predicted that the cost of goods and services would increase, consumers would limit purchases, and employers would reduce employment.
Higher tip wages were proposed
Another democracy-backed proposal in Wisconsin guarantees that employees with chips currently earning $ 2.13 or $ 2.33 per hour will be compensated for the same minimum wage as the rest of the workforce. To do. Senator Chris Larson of Milwaukee and Francesca Hong of Madison are sponsoring the bill.
“This wage is simply not enough,” Larson said at a press conference in March to introduce the law. “Up to 60% of tip workers report that tip wages are too low to meet unemployment criteria, and 46% rely on public support for basic survival.”
Restaurant worker and single mother Larissa Joanna said such changes would have helped her. She said it was dehumanizing to receive wages below the minimum wage for past restaurant jobs. She was stressed and worried because she had to rely so much on customer tips to support her family.
For the past three years, Joanna has been working as a manager at Madison Restaurant, starting with a minimum wage of $ 7.25 and a tip for all employees. However, she knows what it’s like to work hard, but she doesn’t have enough income to support her family, so she keeps fighting for higher wages for others.
And she can’t make up for the lost time with her sons who have autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and language delay. She was doing two jobs just to achieve her goals.
“Unfortunately, I had to spend that time away from the children. It would be beneficial for everyone, including the children, if we all earned a better salary,” Joanna said. It was.
Rudd said: “$ 15 is just the beginning. I want to take a vacation. We want to be able to live the American dream.”
Wisconsin Watch reporters Jen Wan and Isaac Wasserman wrote in this story under the guidance of Wisconsin Watch Editor-in-Chief Dee J. Hall as part of an investigative journalism class at the University of Wisconsin Madison Journalism Mass Communication School. Contributed. Non-profit Wisconsin Watch (www.WisconsinWatch.org) We work with WPR, PBS Wisconsin, other news media, and the UW-Madison Journalism Mass Communication Department. All works created, published, posted, or distributed by Wisconsin Watch do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or its affiliates.