$15 minimum wage: economic cure-all

15 Now may not solve all of the problems in Minneapolis, but it’s a darn good place to start.

The appeal of a magic bullet is easy to understand. Since medieval alchemists sought a panacea — one perfect cure-all herb — the idea of one easy solution to all our troubles has retained its allure. Like the quest to turn lead into gold, finding a panacea has been unattainable.

Real life is more complicated. Though the $15 minimum wage isn’t a true panacea (it’s real and possible to implement for one thing) it is about as close as one economic policy can be.

Right now, low-wage workers are serving as the over-tired, under-resourced foundation of our economy. They are struggling hard. Statewide increases in the minimum wage have helped, but not enough. Roughly 42 percent of jobs in Minneapolis don’t pay enough to support a family of four.

The recent Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) survey of low wage workers, as covered by the Star Tribune and Southwest Journal, makes the stakes very clear, “Among the findings: 80 percent of the survey takers — who make an average of $10.34 per hour — said they have to work at least two jobs to cover living expenses.”

Many Minneapolis workers not only have to deal with low wages but unpredictable schedules, wage theft and lack of paid personal time as well.

This is life on the edge, destabilizing for families and communities. One late bus, on-the-job injury or unexpected car repair can lead to job loss and even homelessness.

An airport worker with three children recently reported to 15 Now that he regularly works 65 hour per week. No matter how much low wage parents love their children and value education, there is little time left to help children make the most of school. Middle class parents often struggle to make parent-teacher meetings, help with homework or read a bedtime story.

For low wage parents these things can be impossible.

Better wages are critical to closing the widening disparity between rich and poor that is threatening the promise of “One Minneapolis.” Marjaan Sirdar makes these linkages clear in a recent article, “Minneapolis, which is 40 percent people of color, is the largest city in a state that has the largest racial poverty gap in the nation.”

Black, Latino, and American Indian families are more than three times as likely as whites to be living in poverty in Minneapolis. Single women head two thirds of Minneapolis families in poverty. No single measure will close these racial and gender equity gaps like raising the minimum wage. Estimates show that with a $15/hour minimum wage over one third of Minneapolis workers would get a raise.

Much, much more needs to be done to ensure a just and equitable Minneapolis, but a decent wage for everyone is a great start.

Better wages mean breathing room in the daily lives of the working poor. With more disposable income in workers’ pockets, small locally owned businesses would thrive as the buying power of their customers expands. This has been the case in Seattle where more restaurants will open this year, after passing a $15 minimum wage, than in the previous two years.

For Minneapolis, this would also be transformative. Some Minneapolis neighborhoods have household incomes below $35,000 per year at rates from 37 percent to as high as 71 percent in West Phillips. How might these neighborhoods benefit as their residents back away from the edge of poverty? As families struggle less to meet their basic everyday needs, they will be energized to participate in civic life, helping to knit our community together.

A $15-per-hour minimum wage is a political gold mine. It polls well, to put it mildly.

Nationwide bipartisan polls show  63 percent support for the $15 minimum wage. That was before Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders started campaigning on it.

That publicity and the 15 Now movement have rallied further support nationally.

Unsurprisingly, numbers are even better locally. Literally more popular than the Vikings, the $15-per-hour minimum wage has an over 80 percent approval rating in Minneapolis, according to a poll that appeared on the MplsWorks website (conducted by the Feldman Group).

Numbers like these are virtually unheard of in political circles, where issues polling in the 60s means rock solid popular support. The only other issues polling this high are no-brainers like solar power and safe drinking water.

With real leadership for $15 per hour, local elected officials could ride the wave of popularity to massive election victories. Will our Mayor and City Council recognize this issue as the real life panacea that thousands of workers are demanding? If so, the benefits for thousands of low wage workers will be far from illusory.

Claire Thiele, a Fulton resident, is an employee of the University of Minnesota and a proud union member. A California native, she loves Minnesota for its wonderful people, beautiful lakes, and exciting weather patterns.