The minimum rage: Wisconsin edition

raiseminwageWith all the talk of raising the minimum wage, there is one state that shouldn’t have any trouble at all doing just that. Why? Because it’s the law. The minimum-wage law for the state of Wisconsin includes some very interesting language:



104.02  Living wage prescribed. Every wage paid or agreed to be paid by any employer to any employee… shall be not less than a living wage.
History: 1975 c. 94; 2005 a. 12.

104.03  Unlawful wages. Any employer paying, offering to pay, or agreeing to pay any employee a wage lower or less in value than a living wage is guilty of a violation of this chapter.

Recently, 100 people with salaries ranging from the minimum wage of $7.25 to as high as $15.05 filed a complaint with the administration of Gov. Scott Walker, telling him why their wage was not a living wage and therefore it violated the state statute. With a lie bigger than the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line, Walker’s DWD (Department of Workforce Development) was quick to respond that $7.25 met the requirement for a living wage.

They did not call any of the 100 complainants. Despite being told over and over again that these people, who work full time, often had to decide between paying rent, buying food, or buying medicine (unable to afford all three and sometimes, could only afford one of the three), the DWD somehow felt that the respondents were living in the lap of luxury off of those princely sums. Unbelievably, part of the reason was that government assistance was considered enough extra income to meet the standard. That means food stamps bumped minimum-wage earners into the leisure class in the eyes of Walker’s government – the same government that provided the food stamps. Were they to simply raise the minimum wage, they would no longer have to provide food stamps for countless numbers of at risk workers.

Although Wisconsin Jobs Now vows the fight is not over, I am finding myself unable to get past the inhuman decision from Walker’s administration.

More justifications of this untenable decision had to do with “stuff” that the poor people owned. That old, tired, and insulting idea that if a poor person owns a refrigerator they are somehow living the life of Riley needs to die a quick and painful death. Some people used to have money and now have none. They may have owned things from that former life, like an aging iPhone or a battered car. (Yes, those who owned cars were considered living well above need. However, were any of those cars to break down there were no funds to repair them.) They may have realized that being able to buy food in a grocery store and keep it in a refrigerator saved a lot of money in the long run over eating out. Many apartments include a refrigerator in the furnishings. Most people consider it as essential as a stove or oven. The only people who appear to think of a refrigerator as a sign of abundant wealth are the kind of people who have never wanted for anything in their entire lives.

Regardless of the erroneous fantasies held by those with piles of money in the bank, this particular statute is there to protect the people who work hard and cannot make food and rent at the same time. The law is there to make sure that government fatcats and corporate masters value the workers who are such a huge part of any industry. Naturally, business interests are screaming that a higher minimum wage would immediately make them flee the state. Walker even cites some bogus study that says the more you pay your workforce, the more jobs are lost. This has been proven incorrect. In Seattle, WA, the minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour and their job figures have been steadily climbing ever since.

It’s an easy equation even for someone who is not an economics major. If you put more money in the pockets of your workers, they will immediately pour that money into the economy of the state. They don’t hide it in offshore accounts. They use it, because they have to. They use it paying rents, buying food, clothes, and the occasional birthday cake. They spend the money on their kids, buying them school supplies and a new wardrobe for their growing bodies. They buy health insurance and gas for their functioning car. If you keep paying them too little to survive, there is only money for necessities. They pay their rent, or get some groceries, or maybe they decide to buy some much-needed medication (Walker did not accept Medicaid expansion, so a lot of poor people here have no insurance at all).

I am hoping that the battle for a living wage continues. The law is on the side of the underpaid. We just need to find a way to get our ridiculous little homunculus of a governor* to listen. Judging by all of the John Doe investigations into him and his administration, he’s not a big fan of laws. We need a miracle – like Mary Burke winning the Governor’s election next month.

*Ordinarily, I am not a fan of name-calling. I make an exception in Walker’s case because it’s an accurate description.