Wage measure likely to pass

Wednesday, November 8, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:44 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Proposition B, which raises the Missouri minimum wage to $6.50 an hour with an annual adjustment for inflation, looked like it would pass easily on Tuesday night. The measure trumps the federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour.

At press time, Boone County voters appeared to be following the statewide trend by approving the proposition.

Give Missourians a Raise, an organization that supported the proposition, collected more than 135,000 petition signatures to place the measure on the ballot. The organization, which includes the AFL-CIO, Missouri Progressive Vote, the Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now and the Missouri Chapter of the Service Employees International Union, said that the increase would provide more income to those earning minimum wage and that the increased earnings would boost the state’s economy.

The primary group opposing the proposition was Save Our State’s Jobs, which consisted of six Missouri business organizations, including Associated Industries of Missouri, the Missouri Restaurants Association, the Missouri Retailers Association, the Missouri Chapter of the National Federation for Independent Businesses, the Missouri Grocers Association, and the Missouri Merchants and Manufacturers Association. One of the organization’s chief arguments was that a higher minimum wage could cause companies to move to states with lower minimum wages.

Experts were split on the possible effects of a minimum wage increase. Victoria Johnson, a sociology professor at MU, said a minimum wage increase would help pull some low-wage workers out of poverty.

But Sharon Ryan, an economics professor at MU, said increases in the minimum wage are harmful for low-wage workers because they create a financial risk for employers, who as a result might be less inclined to hire a worker who has yet to prove himself or herself as a productive worker who deserves a higher wage.

In Boone County, voters who spoke with the Missourian tended to favor the proposition.

“I know that businesses are complaining about it, but something about the working poor will not be eliminated unless they can make a decent wage,” said John McClure, 58, who is the director of an adult learning center. “I think that in the long run, it will benefit the whole community and business will find a way to make a profit.”

Patsy Lewellen, a 49-year-old registered nurse, said compassion was the reason she supported the proposition.

“I think it’s a shame that there’s a widening gap between rich and poor, and we should do all we can to support people and their families,” she said.

Bradley Hargrave, 22, a senior MU economics major, noted the toll that inflation has had on the buying power of $5.15 an hour.

“The minimum wage hasn’t been adjusted for a long time,” he said. “If you count for inflation, the minimum wage 40 years ago was actually a lot higher than it is today.”

Sara Howard, communications director for Give Missourians a Raise, said the nearly universal statewide support for Proposition B was remarkable but not surprising.

“The voters in Missouri have consistently expressed their support for making sure we honor a hard day’s work with a decent wage,” she said.

Some voters also said they understood the impact that critics said an increased minimum wage could have on business owners.

John Beverstein, the owner of Heavenly Ham in south Columbia, said he doesn’t believe the government should regulate wages. He said early Tuesday, however, that even if the amendment were to pass, it wouldn’t affect his business because he already pays his employees $6.50 an hour.

Brad Jones, the state director of the Missouri Chapter of the National Federation for Independent Business and a member of Save Our State’s Jobs, said that his organization is disappointed that Proposition B might have passed.

“We still think it’s going to be a burden on small business owners,” he said, “and we’re still going to be working to figure out what affect indexing will have on the Missouri economy as we move forward.”

Columbia voter Kevin Smith, 42, an insurance employee, saw both sides of the issue.

“It is important that people are making enough money to support themselves,” he said. “On the other hand, you don’t want to hurt other businesses that would be forced to pay bigger payrolls and thus hurt their own budgets and possibly hurt general businesses. So you have to balance those out.”

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