Minimum wage increase in the works at Leg.

One bill would make it $10.55 by August 2015.

by Alma Pronove

Johnson High School senior Celestine Xiong makes minimum wage working at the Dinkytown McDonald’s.

Hoping to attend the University of Minnesota next fall, Xiong has been saving her $7.25-an-hour wages to pay for school.

Minnesota is one of several states that follow the federal minimum wage, but legislators want to change that.

Policymakers have introduced several bills this session to increase the minimum wage, but Rep. Ryan Winkler’s proposal is the only one still being considered.

The Golden Valley Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party member introduced a bill that would incrementally raise minimum wage to $10.55 by August 2015. The bill also calls for the establishment of a system that would adjust minimum wage to reflect inflation.

Biomedical engineering freshman Sara Russett already makes $10 an hour working at Grand Ole Creamery in Minneapolis, but she said that as a student, more money would help.

“The money I make right now helps me pay for books,” she said. “But I’m always open to making more money.”

Xiong is the oldest of seven children, so she has to stretch her paycheck to help out her family.

“Yesterday my mom asked me if I could help pay for car insurance, and a raise would allow me to help out,” she said. “$7.25 doesn’t really meet the realities of daily life.”

Kris Jacobs, executive director of Jobs Now Coalition, has testified in favor of increasing the minimum wage.

“Demand for good jobs is outpacing the number of good jobs in the economy,” she said. “Businesses reap the rewards of lower wages, but workers are getting the shaft.”

Jacobs and other consumer advocates say that, based on their research, the minimum wage should actually be closer to $14 to meet the realities of job availability and basic living costs.

Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, who co-authored the bill, challenged himself to live on minimum wage for a week earlier this month, which he said gave him a new perspective on the issue.

“I really took the challenge because I believe we need to do something,” he said. “$7.25 is not enough to get by on, and we need to address that.”

The most common complaints heard in opposition to raising minimum wage rates have come from businesses.

Alyssa Johnson, manager of the Purple Onion Cafe in Dinkytown, said a minimum wage increase would have little effect on the business.

“Most people don’t stay at minimum wage at our place for that long,” she said. “… Obviously, it would affect our overhead costs, but it would also affect employee satisfaction.”

Winkler’s bill still has to go through the Ways and Means Committee but will likely be voted on by the end of the month.

Metsa said he thinks there will be an increase this year, though the amount is still unclear.

“Overall, I don’t think anyone is arguing the fact that we need to do something,” he said.

University marketing sophomore Jessica Gross works as a server at Sally’s Saloon and Eatery to put herself through school.

“The minimum wage seriously doesn’t do anything,” she said. “I make all my money in tips.”