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Backers of NE Minimum-Wage Hike Address Concerns of 'No' Voters

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Monday, November 21, 2022   

On Nebraska's ballot initiative to increase the state's minimum wage by $1.50 per year between 2023 and 2026, 60% of Nebraska midterm voters said "yes," which means the Nebraska minimum wage will reach $15 an hour by 2026.

Ken Smith, economic justice program director for Nebraska Appleseed, one of 27 groups behind the Raise the Wage Nebraska coalition, acknowledged not everyone is pleased with the win. Smith said although some people feel a period of high inflation is a bad time to raise wages, coalition members believe the opposite is true.

"Our perspective is that if the cost of food and shelter and health care and child care is going up, it is a reason to ensure that Nebraskans are paid a living wage," Smith contended.

Smith pointed out history does not support the concern raising the minimum wage will hurt businesses. He cited Nebraska's experience after the 2014 minimum-wage increase and the experiences of neighboring states, and thinks the positive impact higher wages can have on businesses is one of the reasons some people voted for the initiative.

"And, in fact, it's largely been to the economic benefit of states and cities that have raised the minimum wage," Smith asserted "It's good for businesses, just as it's good for workers, and that's one of the reasons why so many people came out to support this issue in November."

Nearly 300 business owners and executives went on record in favor of the increase.

Another argument the coalition heard was small-town Nebraskans should not need the same minimum wage as workers in the metropolitan areas. Smith pointed to an MIT cost-of-living calculator, which supports the statewide increase.

"And it shows that across the state by 2026, when our wages are now scheduled to hit $15 per hour, that would be a base minimum wage that's needed in every single county across the state," Smith outlined.

The minimum wage applies to tipped workers as well. At the end of a pay period, a tipped employee's guaranteed minimum of $2.13 an hour plus their tips, must add up to at least the minimum hourly wage, or the employer must make up the difference. Smith explained the coalition is aware it does not always happen, and could be addressed separately in the future.


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