Debate over raising the state’s minimum wage is heating up as several counties will vote in November on whether or not to advise the state to raise it to $10.10.
Counties with advisory referendums on the ballot to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 include Dane, Eau Claire, Kenosha, La Crosse and Milwaukee. Business groups, however, insist a higher minimum wage would hurt the economy and cause major job losses.
Kevin Kane, the lead Citizen Action of Wisconsin organizer, said the referendums will advise the state to take action, as counties can no longer raise the minimum wage themselves.
“I do believe [Wisconsin’s low minimum wage] plays a role in people not having the purchasing power to help businesses hire more people,” Kane said. “So now counties are deciding whether they want the state or the feds to raise the minimum wage so our economies can have this consumer power to get these goods and services moving forward again.”
The Center on Wisconsin Strategy found in a February report raising the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 would boost wages for more than half a million of the state’s workers by 2016.
Kane said as Wisconsin is now surrounded by states with higher minimum wages, Wisconsin is at a disadvantage.
“When we have an economy based on consumer goods, if our citizens don’t have the purchasing power, and don’t have the ability to have economy boosting jobs, then they don’t have the ability to spend on the basics like cell phone bills, fixing a car and all that,” Kane said.
But Bill Smith, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said the minimum wage hike to $10.10 would cause 27,000 jobs losses in Wisconsin, citing a March study from the Economic Policy Institute.
Smith also pointed to a non-partisan Congressional Budget Office study that found a national $10.10 minimum wage would cause about 500,000 job losses in the United States.
Smith said any minimum wage increase would force businesses to raise prices, which would “erode any additional purchasing power” for workers that see wage boosts. He added it would also cause small businesses to cut costs by either cutting down on hiring or eliminating jobs.
“You don’t gain purchasing advantage, or purchasing power, by artificially inflating the price of labor because for every action in the private sector there’s a reaction,” Smith said. “So when the price of labor is increased, the only place a small business can go is to the labor side of their ledger because 80 percent of the costs of owning and operating a small business are on the labor side.“