The Iowa House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to raise the state’s minimum wage. The bill would increase Iowa’s minimum wage to $7.25 on January 1st of next year. Many House Republicans, like Steve Lukan of New Vienna, argued for a more gradual increase in the wage rate. Lukan owns a small tire business with his father and he says the sudden pay hike may force companies like his to cut back on part-timers.
"It’s going to affect their ability to find those part-time high school employees and whether or not they’re going to be able to give them 20 hours a week," Lukan says. "They might only be able to give them 15 after this goes into effect." But Representative Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque, says the legislature wouldn’t have had to rush the pay raise if Republicans had been willing to increase the minimum wage while they ran the legislature’s debate agenda.
"Folks, it’s been more than nine years," Jochum says. "We ought to be ashamed that we have not raised the wage rate in this state for nine years." Jochum says the bill will not force Iowa’s smallest businesses to pay workers the minimum wage. Businesses with yearly earnings of 300-thousand dollars or less are not covered by the requirement to pay workers at least the minimum wage.
Yet Representative Lance Horbach, a Republican from Tama, argues that isn’t enough. "Please, please don’t make small, local businesses feel unwelcome here at the capitol," Horbach says. "Even worse, don’t make them feel like you’re not listening." Other Republicans argued most who earn the minimum wage are teenagers working a part-time job.
Jochum disagreed. "It’s been argued that the increase will benefit primarily teenagers. That is false…Less than one percent those earning $5.15 (the current minimum wage) are teens," Jochum says. "Seventy-five percent of those who are going to benefit from this are adults over the age of 20. Fifty-eight percent are women and 20 percent are parents."
Representative Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Garner, says small businesses in her area tell her the wage hike will force changes. "Layoffs was the first response I got…and then, of course, in the most extreme cases was closing," Upmeyer says. Democrats like Representative Kurt Swaim of Bloomfield argue the minimum wage hike will help pull some Iowans out of poverty.
"We’ve got to create a situation where they have a realistic hope that they can make it playing by the rules," Swaim says. "This is the first step to help them do that." The bill passed the House on a 79 to 19 vote. The Iowa Senate may take up the bill this afternoon. On Monday, Governor Culver urged the legislature to send him the bill this week so he can sign it into law.