Two Democratic legislators, Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, and Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, introduced a bill Friday to increase the state minimum wage to $15 over the next five years.
Under this bill, the minimum wage would gradually increase to $15 each year over a five-year time period. After the five-year period ends, the bill will require the Department of Workforce Development to adjust minimum wage income annually to match the trends of the current economy.
Sargent said this legislation was necessary because everyday Wisconsin citizens are struggling as they continually work low-income jobs and live in impoverished conditions.
“We need to go back to one of our very core principles as a country, and as a state, [which is] if you work hard, you should be able to get ahead,” Sargent said. “We write in our tax codes to benefit the rich and the wealthy and the connected, and if we can afford to do that, we certainly can afford to invest in everyday ordinary folks in the state of Wisconsin.”
Laura Dresser, associate director of COWS and one of the lead authors on the study, said these numbers represent only some of the issues low wage workers face in Wisconsin.
Dresser said these workers often are working full-time, but are still unable afford base transportation and housing costs. By increasing the minimum wage, she said workers will be more committed to their jobs which could decrease turnover and increase worker productivity.
The federal minimum wage, however, has not been raised since 2009. Since then, 29 states have made the decision to raise their minimum wage above the federal level, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s Minimum Wage Tracker.
Dresser said some of those states, like Washington and New York, have the most dynamic economies in the nation right now and are already moving towards implementing these minimum wages levels in their state.
“This would dramatically change income at the bottom of the labor market in the state,” Dresser said.
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The two Democratic lawmakers introduced a similar bill together in the last legislative session, but it did not pass.
Sargent admits the bill faces a partisan legislature, but she argues introducing these types of bills can “change the fabric of the state” even though they might not pass because it allows people to think and talk about issues that matter to them.
“The people of Wisconsin are asking for this [minimum wage] bill to be introduced,” Sargent said. “Folks are overwhelmingly saying ‘It’s time to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.’ It’s my job as a legislator and people’s servant to hear the voices of the people and bring what is that they find important [into] the building to discuss.”
The co-sponsorship period for this bill ends Dec. 1. The bill has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.