Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, the Democratic candidate for governor, called for an increase in the state minimum wage to $15 per hour at a get-out-the-vote rally with Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) in Milwaukee on Monday.
“Also we have make sure that we understand that Low-Wage Walker has brought us low wages in the state of Wisconsin,” Evers said at the rally in a speech recorded by the MacIver Institute. “We’re going to $15 an hour minimum. Minimum.”
The $15 per hour minimum wage has been a goal of SEIU and other living organizations who advocate for they describe as “a living wage.” The current minimum wage in Wisconsin is $7.25 per hour. However, doubling the minimum wage to $15 per hour would hurt those it was intended to help, critics charge.
“Tony Evers’ plan will harm the very people he hopes to help. His wage plan means trouble for countless restaurants and mom-and-pop small businesses that would be forced to let workers go or reduce hours to pay for the wage hike,” said Eric Bott, the state director for Americans for Prosperity – Wisconsin. “Workers on the bottom of the economic ladder will suffer most and have a harder time improving their lives. Evers’ plan might inadvertently help special interests destroy their main street competition but it won’t help the people struggling to pay the bills when their hours are cut or they’re laid off.”
Business groups agree with Bott. Chris Reader, the Director of Health & Human Resources Policy with WMC, warned that an increase to $15 per hour would have dire effects on Wisconsin’s economy.
“Tony Evers seems content to plagiarize the most extreme and radical liberal policies out there,” Reader said. “Four years ago Democrats in Wisconsin pushed a $10.10 minimum wage, a proposal that was rejected by Wisconsinites when they learned that the government mandate would actually kill 27,000 jobs.”
Reader was referring to a study by the Employment Policies Institute (EPI) showed that a Democratic plan in 2012 to raise the state minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would lead to a loss of 27,000 jobs in Wisconsin. That prompted a number of business groups including Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), Wisconsin Grocers Association and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association (WRA), to all speak out against the proposal.
“Now Evers is proposing a forced artificial wage hike that is almost 50 percent higher and would be one of the most extreme in the country,” Reader said. “This plan will kill jobs on its own. When combined with his other anti-job proposals like massive tax hikes on manufacturers and farmers and forced union membership, it’s clear that Tony Evers will take Wisconsin’s economy backwards.”
The Evers campaign did not respond to a request for a comment on Reader’s statement about the potential job losses from Evers’ economic plan.
The push for a $15 minimum wage elsewhere has had the effect Reader described. According to the Seattle Times, a study by the University of Washington showed that Seattle’s increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour cost jobs and hurt hourly workers.
“The UW researchers found a 9.4 percent drop in hours worked by low-wage workers both in and out of the restaurant industry — resulting in the equivalent of a whopping 6,317 full-time jobs eliminated,” the Seattle Times reported. “Even with a higher wage floor, the average low-wage worker’s monthly pay dropped by $124 — a 6.6 percent pay cut — because of lost hours.”
On the other hand,Tracy Kosbau, the Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for the WRA, said the current economy is already pushing wages up in the restaurant industry without government intervention.
“Mandated minimum wage increases negatively impact restaurant jobs and drive up consumer costs,” Kosbau said. “Many restaurant employees earn significantly more than minimum wage. Nationally, the median hourly earnings of servers range from $16 to $22, depending on experience.”
Kosbau said the increases in wages are the result of the marketplace.
“Many restaurant employers have created their own starting minimum wage to help attract quality employees in a competitive market,” Kosbau said. “That is perfectly fine. Employers should be able to decide on wages instead of having the government decide this for them.”
Kosbau also pointed out that the idea of a “living wage” may not make sense given who is earning the minimum wage.
“The vast majority of restaurant workers who earn the federal minimum wage work part-time and are not the heads of their households,” Kosbau said. “The average household income of restaurant employees who earn the federal minimum wage is $62,507. Also, the majority of minimum wage restaurant employees are just beginning their professional lives. Forty-seven percent of federal minimum wage restaurant employees are teenagers, while 71 percent are under the age of 25.”
As for Evers claim of “low-wage Walker,” the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy (CROWE) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee reported real growth in family income since Walker was elected in 2010. “In particular, a representative Wisconsin family of four in Wisconsin has seen income grow by 13.1 percent in real terms, and 14.3 percent after accounting for state taxes,” wrote Noah Williams on the CROWE website. Williams also found household income in Wisconsin increased in real terms during the same period, even outperforming Minnesota.
Not surprisingly, Republicans were dismissive of Evers’ claim of lower wages.
“While Evers is busy promising to raise your taxes and place burdensome regulations on Wisconsin businesses, Governor Walker has actually grown Wisconsin’s economy and brought good paying, family supporting jobs to Wisconsin,” said Alec Zimmerman, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin. “Under Governor Walker’s leadership the Wisconsin comeback is real — we simply can’t afford to let Tony Evers take us backward now.”