Work Together. Raise The Wage.

I attended the minimum wage study group meeting last night and was surprised at the speed in which the group moved to offer what was termed as a “first-step,” approach to raising the minimum wage.

To his credit, the Republican Mayor of Cedar Rapids in a bold move, did what many other Republicans in this state lack the courage to do: he acknowledged that it is in fact time to raise the minimum wage. This move will not do him any favors in a crowded Republican primary, should he decide to run for governor, but thousands of Cedar Rapidians will be better off if a wage increase passes.

Councilmembers from Hiawatha and Marion stated last night more than once that the majority of their private employers were already paying starting wages between $9 and $10 per hour, so a raise in the minimum wage to the $10.10 mark would have very little impact on businesses there. If we all can agree that the current minimum wage is insultingly too low, and our closest neighbors to the north with smaller economies are already paying starting wages that are significantly higher, then why must the largest city and most robust economy in Linn County offer such a modest increase? We find ourselves in the classic politician’s dilemma: either we can do what we know is right, albeit politically risky, and raise the wage to $10.10 per hour, or we can do what is politically expedient and offer an increase of one hundred pennies.

If all of the data shows that a raise in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, with necessary exemptions, will not hurt the economy but will in fact help the economy and instantly raise the wage of over 18,400 residents of the county, then getting to a $10.10 wage is not only a moral imperative, but it makes good economic sense.

Every decade brings a monumental challenge that each generation must address. The 50’s and 60’s was about Civil Rights. In the 70’s, we started to get serious about our environment. In the 80’s we saw a war on drugs and crime. The Internet came about in the 90’s and 2000’s and we had to rethink our right to privacy. Now, we face three pressing issues that will define our generation: the global threats posed by terrorism, climate change, and income inequality. Right here and right now in Linn County, we can play a small role in combating the last of these very serious issues. We can raise the minimum wage to a level that offers our workers the dignity every human being deserves.

All in all, the $8.25 recommendation was certainly less than ideal, but a good starting point for the board, which collectively has the power to pass a higher wage increase. If Marion and Hiawatha hold the line, and Cedar Rapids wants to opt out by voting for a lower wage for its residents, then I trust the councilmembers are prepared to explain that vote to working people in the city and explain why they would place a lower value on their work than our neighbors to the north.

We have an opportunity here in Linn County to demonstrate real collaboration between governments. We have an opportunity to solve a big problem and help a lot of people which is the whole point of public service. We will only get there if our elected officials exercise a little courage and if compromise can once again become a watchword. We can move past partisanship and help working families. I hope my elected leaders can get it done.

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