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Wisconsin workers need living wages

In Wisconsin, we know if you want to get ahead you have to work hard. Yet there are hardworking individuals in our state, working full-time and making minimum wage, who are unable to cover basic living expenses.

The minimum wage in Wisconsin is not a living wage. An individual who works full-time making the current minimum wage of $7.25, brings in less than $300 a week or approximately $15,000 a year.

This is $7,000 below the poverty rate for a family of four. In the land of opportunity, it is unacceptable that a person working full-time cannot support their family.

In January of this year, I joined my Democratic colleagues from across the state to sponsor Senate Bill 4 to increase the minimum wage to $7.60 an hour and index it to inflation.

To date the chairpersons of the Assembly and Senate Labor Committees have refused to hold a public hearing to give the citizens of Wisconsin a say on this important issue.

This week we are reminding these chairpersons of the importance of raising the minimum wage and asking them to hold a public hearing.

Raising the minimum wage to $7.60 an hour would benefit more than 300,000 workers statewide.

If the minimum wage had been indexed to inflation in 1968, it would be $10.40 today.

Most people think of minimum wage jobs are filled by teenagers. In fact, more than 80 percent of minimum wage workers in Wisconsin are over 20-years-old, a fourth of them have children and a third are married.

Nationally, more than 40 percent of minimum wage workers have higher than a high school education.

Research shows an overwhelming number of employers of low-wage workers are extremely profitable corporations with large numbers of employed workers. Even as corporate profits reach historic highs the wages and benefits of workers has stagnated.

Raising the minimum wage helps build a strong economy for everyone, not just the richest one percent of our state. Paying workers a living wage enables them to cover basic living expenses without relying on public assistance and food pantries. Costco, the second largest retailer in the U.S. after Walmart, is often cited as an example of a tremendously successful company that pays its workers an average of $20.89 per hour.

Since the minimum wage was enacted in 1938, opponents have argued it will hurt businesses and force them to lay off employees.

In fact, studies have shown that raising the minimum wage makes it easier for employers to recruit and retain workers, and it contributes to consumer demand. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, for every dollar increase that a minimum wage worker receives their annual household spending increases by $3,500.

When workers are paid a living wage, the benefits are felt throughout our society. Families have greater economic security, there is less reliance on public assistance and new consumer spending to boost the economy.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's words in 1937 still hold true today: "Our nation so richly endowed with natural resources and with a capable and industrious population should be able to devise ways and means of insuring to all our able-bodied working men and women a fair day's pay for a fair day's work."

Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, represents the 73rd Assembly District in the Wisconsin Legislature.