Mayor Sly James called for raising the minimum his annual State of the City address this morning, March 31, 2015. In Missouri, the current minimum wage is $7.65 and, thanks to a popular 2006 statewide ballot initiative, the Missouri minimum wage already keeps up with the cost of living annually.
“Economic data shows that productivity has grown since the early 1970s while the falue of the minimum wage has stayed flat or even fallen…our nation has a growing class of service workers and laborers who are not paid enough to support themselves and their families,” said Mayor James. “The State of Missouri must not only raise the minimum wage, but it must examine the eligibility requirements for safety net programs that keep people from falling through the cracks altogether.”
“The mayor said that poverty wages are a barrier to economic vitality that we need to knock down – and he took a step in the right direction by calling for a minimum wage increase,” said Bob Minor, a co-chair at Kansas City Jobs with Justice. “Mayor James’ remarks show he understands that a higher minimum wage is key to getting the economy back on track for working people and the middle class. The Mayor’s remarks also cement the growing consensus on the left and right that one of the best ways to get the economy going again is to put money in the pockets of people who work, who will spend it at small businesses in their communities. A minimum wage increase will stimulate consumer demand and help drive economic growth for the people who most need it in Kansas City – working families.”
Another step in the right direction would be a $15 hourly wage and union representation in the fast food industry, a central demand of the local organization Stand Up KC. Stand Up KC member and Wendy’s employee LaToya Caldwell was cited by Mayor James in his speech as one of the Kansas Citians who “work hard for 40 hours a week and still don’t bring home enough money to provide for their families.” Caldwell has four children between the ages of 2 and 12. Two years ago, Caldwell made $9.29 at Wendy’s, but she had to go on unpaid maternity leave and the company hired her back at $7.35 an hour.
Stand Up KC will be leading mass actions in Kansas City on April 15 to demand “$15 and a Union” for Caldwell and thousands like her in Kansas City. Fast food restaurants are projected to have more job openings than any other industry in KC in the next 8 years. (according to MERIC)
Mayor James did not give a specific level to which he would increase the minimum wage. A recent report by MIT put a living wage for one parent and two children in Kansas City at more than $46,000 a year, or more than $22/hour for full time work.
In Missouri, the public cost of low-wage fast-food jobs is $146 million, with 49% of fast-food workers forced to rely on public assistance to cover basic needs, according to a UC-Berkeley study.
A statewide initiative to raise Missouri’s minimum wage in 2012 fell victim to prolonged court challenges by the restaurant industry. Nationally, progressives are calling for Congress to raise the minimum wage to $12.50 – which new polls show 75% of Americans support. In November 2012, voters in Albuquerque, San Jose, and Long Beach approved ballot measures by overwhelming margins to raise the wages of the lowest-paid workers in each city. Citywide minimum wage increases passed in Albuquerque, with 66 percent support, and in San Jose, with 59 percent support, while 63 percent of Long Beach voters approved an ordinance establishing a higher minimum wage for hotel workers in the city. San Francisco and Seattle have already approved $15 wages, and moderate Rahm Emanuel successfully championed a $13 minimum wage for Chicago – raising the bar in the Midwest.