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Democrats seek support for minimum wage increase

Shamane Mills, Wisconsin Public Radio

Democrats are seeking co-sponsors for what they call a modest increase in Wisconsin's minimum wage. Republican lawmakers have been resistant to do so even as other states have boosted their minimum wage.

The bill being introduced by Democrats is modeled after federal legislation. It would raise the minimum wage nearly a dollar right away, then boost it gradually over two years to a little over $10. From then on it would be indexed to inflation.

Darnell Summers, 57, is a fast food worker who makes minimum wage: $7.25 an hour. He's part time, and not by choice: His employer, Popeye's trimmed employee's hours to 28 per week. Summers says it's hard to pay his bills. He relies on FoodShare.

“I pay $550 rent,” says Summers. “I make $640 a month. That's not living. I am able-bodied; I should not have to depend on a Quest card so I can eat.”

The bill's authors are Rep. Corey Mason, D-Racine, Sen. Nikiya Harris, D-Milwaukee, and Rep. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay. So far no Republicans have signed on to bill. One concern brought up is potential loss of jobs. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington):

“That is going to have a huge, negative impact on small business all across Wisconsin,” says Vos. “My preference would be to make sure we have more worker training, giving everybody an opportunity to succeed.”

Mason says a higher minimum wage does not necessarily lead to job losses and can actually increase jobs. He points to data from the Economic Policy Institute.

“If you look actually the empirical data that's there – the other states that index their minimum wage to inflation and compare it to states that don't – there's virtually no difference in the level of unemployment.”

The bill has 46 co-sponsors so far. A similar bill last year didn't even get a hearing.