Wichita Eagle, 23 Decemebr 2007
The Kansas minimum wage is $2.65 an hour. Do we have your attention?
To any rational thinker, this figure would appear absurd, almost silly. But nothing is funny about trying to get by on $2.65 an hour: For a full-time worker, that amounts to just $5,512 per year. Some people think that no one in Kansas could possibly make such a low hourly wage, but a new study sheds some light on this seemingly invisible category of workers.
The nonpartisan Ad Astra Institute, based in Lawrence, reports that 17,000 Kansas workers made less than the old $5.15 minimum wage in 2006. Since the federal minimum wage increased in July to $5.85, Kansans are falling even further behind, and that 17,000 figure is now higher.
To be clear: The Kansas minimum wage applies to workers in job categories not protected by the federal minimum, such as child care workers, companions to the elderly and infirm, and employees of private businesses grossing less than $500,000 per year and not engaged in interstate commerce.
As members of the Kansas Action Network's Raise the Wage Wichita campaign, we believe that an honest day's work deserves fair pay. A job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it.
But there's good news for businesses and the local economy, too.
To remain competitive, businesses need not choose between paying higher wages and keeping costs down. The study found that a minimum-wage increase "would have no substantial long-term effects on output, employment or profits." Further, it found that "short-run adjustments in prices, made by businesses reliant on low-wage workers, are likely to be much too small to have significant impacts on the overall price levels, and will not cause an ongoing inflationary spiral."
It makes sense that paying higher wages enables a more productive work force, increased consumer purchasing power, higher sales tax revenue and less turnover (an expensive cost for businesses). Perhaps more important, higher wages mean greater dignity for the lowest-paid workers in the Kansas economy.
Therefore, we urge the Wichita City Council to establish a citywide minimum wage that at least matches the federal wage level. Wichita can and must ensure that it pays to live and work in our city. As the rest of the state remains bogged down by an outdated $2.65 minimum wage, Wichita should take the moral and economic high road, ensuring that none of its workers slips through the cracks, that fairness and reason prevail.
If you know someone who is covered by the Kansas minimum-wage law -- or if you are that person -- we encourage you to join our campaign.
For more information, visit the Web site www.raisethewagekansas.org or call 316-941-4061.
The Rev. David Hansen of Wichita is conference minister for the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference, United Church of Christ. Kirby Clark is business manager for the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, Local 29, in Wichita.