State increases minimum wage

Brady Averill

Minnesotans currently making minimum wage will likely be able to put extra cash into their pockets come August.

The State House and Senate, respectively, passed measures Monday and Tuesday that will up the state’s minimum wage to $6.15 an hour.

The current minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, which is in sync with many other states’.

The last hurdle for the bill is to get Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s signature. Lawmakers said they expect him to sign it.

For some, the increase is still small.

The Senate version of the bill was higher, but Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, author of the bill, said she compromised on the floor instead of negotiating the differences between the Senate and House versions in conference committee. With only a few weeks left during the regular session, she said, the bill would have probably “languished” in conference committee.

“I think it’s a really good step for Minnesota. I wish it would have been a little higher,” Anderson said.

The initial Senate bill included an increase to $7 an hour by 2006.

The increase will have an impact on thousands of Minnesotans, if not more.

According to a study released by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry in February, approximately 49,000 Minnesotans earned $5.15 an hour or less at their main jobs in 2004.

The new measure could affect people who make more than minimum wage too.

Ann Markusen, a professor at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said a higher minimum wage will probably affect people who make $8.50 an hour or less.

She said the increase could raise wages already more than the minimum.

The University has its own floor wage, which will not likely be impacted by the Legislature’s recent move, an official said.

“Because our minimum wage is already higher, it really doesn’t impact us right now at this point,” said Lori Ann Vicich, director of strategic communications for the University’s Office of Human Resources.

Starting wage at the University is $6.50 an hour. Approximately 5,000 students have University jobs, she said.

Senior Alisa Velic is one of them.

She said she thinks the bill is good for low-income families and those who work low-paying jobs.

“It’s definitely going to work for the students,” she said.

Some critics of the bill said it is either unnecessary or will hurt the economy.

Michael Ehrlichman, a physics junior, said he does not think a minimum wage increase is needed.

“Being a student, I realize it’s not that hard to get by on very small amounts of cash,” Ehrlichman said.

Markusen said economists have long watched the impact of a minimum-wage increase.

Based on past evidence from increases at the local, state and national levels, she said, an increase has never resulted in higher unemployment, which can hurt the economy.

Consumers might have to pay more for goods to make up for the increase, she said, but the extra money minimum-wage workers will earn goes right back into the economy.

Anderson said, “For people who are at that wage level, every penny that they make goes into buying the bare necessities of life.”

They’ll spend the money at the local grocery store or gas station, she said.