By Rhe’Ann McBride, Layout Manager
During the Nov. 4 elections, voters will be asked to decide on increasing Nebraska’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 in 2016.
If the initiative is approved, the Nebraska minimum wage would increase from the current rate of $7.25 per hour to $8 on January 1, 2015 and $9 on January 1, 2016, according to Ballotpedia.
State Sen. Brad Ashford and Rep. Lee Terry, candidates for Nebraska’s Second Congressional District, discussed the issue during a debate at the Omaha Press Club on Oct. 16. Ashford said that increasing the minimum wage would help unskilled workers gain the financial security needed to get training for a higher-paying job.
While Ashford and Terry disagreed on how to solve the problem, they agreed that minimum wage is an especially relevant concern for college students trying to pay off student loans. “Debt is strangling the young people,” Terry said.
Timaree Reed, a junior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said she knows that struggle all too well. She currently makes minimum wage at two jobs and is looking for a third to help pay for day-to-day expenses. “It means that I have to put in more hours…which means more stress along with all of my schoolwork,” Reed said.
Ashford said making minimum puts students in a position where they have debt without a means to pay.
“If I made more money, I would be able to save more and pay off my tuition and expenses faster,” Reed said.
If a worker worked 40 hours per week at the current minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hour, they would earn $15,080 a year, according to Nebraskans for Better Wages. This would put a family of two or more under the federal poverty level.
Nebraska’s economy could see many benefits from the increase. An increase of the minimum wage would strengthen job creation, reduce employee turnover and raise the demand for goods and services, according to Nebraskans for Better Wages. For every $1 the minimum wage is increased, consumer spending is expected to increase by $2,800, according to a 2011 report by the Chicago Federal Reserve.
“I never have money to spend on frivolous things like eating out or going shopping,” Reed said. “If the minimum wage was increased, I would have money to spend on things besides necessities.”
Opponents of the initiative say increasing the minimum wage could reduce the number of jobs available to unskilled workers. Teen employment could decrease by 3.6 percent for each 10 percent hike in the minimum wage, according to the Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom.
Increased wages for workers could put a strain on employers, resulting in a reduced number of employees and working hours, according to the Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom.
Joe Miller, a small business owner in rural Nebraska, said a minimum wage increase would have negative impacts on his and other small businesses.
“People just don’t make as much money in rural areas,” Miller said. “I can barely afford to pay my employees now…I would have to cut hours or increase my prices to make up for it.”
Miller said he is willing to pay his employees above minimum wage if the quality of their work deems it necessary. “If an employee shows up to work on time and works hard all day long, then they deserve to make more than minimum wage, and I will pay them more,” Miller said. “But if they put in minimum effort, then they deserve to make minimum wage.”
Gov. Dave Heineman opposes a minimum wage increase and instead suggested more training for unskilled workers so they can get better-paying jobs, according to Ballotpedia. The last time Nebraska’s minimum wage increased was 2009 when it was bumped from $6.55 to $7.25, according to the Nebraska Secretary of State’s website.
On Nov. 4, it will be up to voters to decide the future of Nebraska’s minimum wage and the workers that earn it.
“Like any highly-debated political issue, I have concerns with raising the minimum wage,” Reed said. “But I know it could make a huge difference in my life.”