Citizens from across the state met at the Capitol Monday to discuss the need for a Wisconsin minimum-wage increase. Several groups met to ask legislators to increase the minimum wage to meet current poverty-line standards.
The groups cited the recent economic downturn as a reason for the increase.
UW-Madison law and sociology professor Joel Rogers of the Center of Wisconsin Strategy said the time was right to increase wages.
“A bump in the minimum wage is a good policy for Wisconsin, which has a low-wage problem,” Rogers said. “It helps both working families and productivity.”
The current minimum wage, set in 1997, has fallen below the poverty line for families of three or more. Rogers said productivity has increased more than 40 percent since the 1950s, while the real wages have declined 38 percent.
“With increases in inflation and productivity, minimum wage should be more than $11,” Rogers said.
Assembly Bill 66 would raise the current minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.80 per hour and arrange for it to stay above the poverty line. The bill is currently bottled up in committee, but citizen groups hope economic circumstances will allow the legislature to take a new look at the situation.
Some opposed to the bill said it could decrease productivity and not allow the economy to become strong again.
Anne Arnesen, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, said the minimum wage can account for only 80 percent of the total income for remaining above the poverty line. She also said Americans believe there is a definite line of poverty in the United States.
“Sixty-four percent of Americans say if a family of four’s income is less than $20,000, then they are poor.”
Arnesen also believes the low level of income for workers in Wisconsin is a serious matter because it affects many families.
“33 percent of wage workers work at the lowest wage possible, with 60 percent of them being women.”
Carolyn Castore of Wisconsin Citizen Action also points to education as an important part of the minimum-wage problem.
“The only way out of minimum wage is through additional education or training,” she said. “It is not acceptable that the minimum wage will not keep a family out of poverty, and it loses ground to inflation every year.”
Many people believe raising the minimum wage will only increase pay for teenagers and students. Rogers says this is not so.
“Teenagers are only 30 percent of the people who make minimum wage,” he said.
The groups believe the time is right for a minimum-wage increase and that it must rise with inflation.
“We have been cutting and reducing any type of safety net for people who make minimum wage,” she said. “If you’re living on five bucks an hour, there’s not a lot more belt-tightening you can do.”