Johnson County workers deserve $10.10 minimum wage


In conjunction with the popularized “Fight for 15” national narrative, the Democratic Party on Aug. 28 incorporated a $15 minimum wage standard into its

platform. On Aug. 27, closer to home, local officials reached agreement on implementing a minimum-wage hike.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors unanimously supported the first consideration of an ordinance that would result in a $1 hourly wage increase from the current $7.25 beginning Nov. 1. In May 2016, the minimum would raise to $9.15 per hour, peaking at $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2017.

The theory behind the minimum wage centers on whether it is intended to function as a livable wage or a stopgap measure. Initially, part-time workers largely consisted of those receiving minimum or near-minimum wages. However, such rates have not kept pace with the cost of living, often radically, shifting the connotation to a current living standard.

According to the Pew Research Center, since 2009, the last increase of the federal minimum wage, the $7.25 per hour rate has lost 8.1 percent of its economic purchasing power in the United States. Furthermore, the Hamilton Project estimated that approximately 35 million people who work at minimum or near-minimum wages would be affected by a national wage hike.

Due to the wealthy pockets of the American economy compared alongside trends in other leading global markets, The Economist reported the country’s minimum wage should hover near $12 per hour given its GDP in comparison with other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries (there are 34).

However, a national standard might not be the most appropriate means of instating a federal minimum wage. The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes an algorithmic approach would be better, applying a key that reflects and accounts for local workforce and living conditions. Given the cost of living drastically varying between regions of the country, a local market such as New York City may necessitate a $15 hourly wage rate, yet that may be overzealous for a small-city metropolitan area such as Iowa City.

However, not every worker’s needs are the same, highlighting an additional struggle in developing a livable minimum wage. As of its 2014 update, the MIT “Living Wage Calculator” puts the hourly amount that single adults need to support themselves in Johnson County at $10.67. Two working adults with a child in Johnson County would require $12.33 per hour individually, according to that same index, while the requisite living wage for a single caretaker of a child soars to $22.44.

Deeper issues than simple hourly rates arise in a college-town setting. University-centric communities often create town-gown splits, in which students, staff, and faculty make up the core of city while service workers populate and beautify the fringes for the aforementioned residents. Iowa City is no stranger to such worker segregation. According to a Martin Prosperity Institute study released earlier this year, the town ranks 14th highest in terms of spatially separating the impoverished from the affluent.

A wage hike is necessary for the people of Johnson County, and incrementing such is the smartest maneuver by local officials. Shocking the market with a stark increase (to, say, $15 per hour) would undoubtedly dismantle small businesses’ current framework.

The idea of a minimum wage has ultimately inhabited that of a livable wage, considering the significant portion of the national population living within the confines of such. And with Johnson County’s 17.7 percent poverty rate compared with 12.4 percent in Iowa as a whole, it’s apparent we need to make some changes. Whether the Iowa Labor Commission wishes to interpret a local wage hike as unconstitutional, Johnson County minimum and near-minimum wage workers deserve $10.10 an hour.

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