People tend to think that minimum wage workers are mostly teenagers, but an issue brief published by the Economic Policy Institute last August showed that raising the federal minimum wage to $9.80 by July 2014 would directly affect 409,400 of Wisconsin's 2.5 million workers. But because people working for wages close to the minimum are likely to have their pay scale adjusted by their employers, an additional 175,653 Wisconsin workers also would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage. Of the 585,000 workers likely affected, 25 percent would be parents and 83 percent would be age 20 or older.
What changes do you see as most likely in coming years?
Curtis: One of the things we anticipated was the increasing importance of underemployment versus unemployment. It's not necessarily an issue of the number of jobs but of job quality. So, if things move ahead in their current direction, what we would anticipate is a continued increase in poverty. But, on a positive note—something can be done about job quality and wages. Communities can pursue economic development strategies that reduce poverty and benefit all members of the community.
Tigges: And political will can influence the wage levels. Last March, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced the Rebuild America Act, which included incremental increases in the federal minimum wage and required indexing it to inflation after it reached $9.80 in July 2014. That step alone could improve the situation for one fifth of Wisconsin workers. But we don't need to wait for the federal government to act. States can set their own minimum wage levels and can index them to inflation to maintain their buying power without annual legislative action.
Source: UW-Madison CALS