Maybe counties shouldn't have the authority to hike the local minimum wage. But any attempt in Iowa's Legislature to strip that power without including a wage hike would fail local governments and workers alike.
Polk, Linn, Johnson and Wapello counties are in the midst of wage increases spread out over two years. In each case, the minimum hourly wage would spike from the state's $7.25 minimum to north of $10. The state's two most populated counties carry particular sway. And large employers are rightly concerned about a patchwork of varied wages making the act of doing business even more difficult and costly.
Gov. Terry Branstad has, too, publicly fretted about the effects such statewide variation would have on businesses with multiple locations. And the issue is now swirling around Des Moines as the Legislature eyes action under pressure from industry lobbyists to do something.
But it's the threat of a half-measure that should most concern Iowans. It would be very easy — and, in many cases, politically expedient — for the Legislature's dominant Republicans to leave the decade-old minimum in place, while stripping local governments of home rule.
Small government and local control are all well and good, for many Republicans, so long as they conform to a pre-approved political bent.
It wouldn't just be a half-measure. It would be nothing short of ignoring calls by local governments — and their constituents — to boost a wage that, for years, hasn't provided a living for thousands. It would be a shame when, in fact, now is the moment that Iowa could address the shortcoming in minimum wage policy by tying it directly to the rate of inflation.
There are a lot of myths circling about the minimum wage, well-worn talking points that simply defy fact. Most minimum wage earners are not "high school kids," according the the U.S. Department of Labor. More than half of minimum wage earners are adults. Women and minorities are disproportionately represented. Some 89 percent of workers who would benefit from, say, a bump to $12 dollars are more than 20 years old, say federal data. Previous increases show that statements about the job-killing effects of a minimum wage increase tend to be overstated.
But, since it's inception, minimum wage policy has been wracked by a fundamental flaw. Politicians go to war over it. The battle lasts for years. And, every year, those stuck at the minimum get poorer as inflation devalues the dollar.
It's unclear what the right number is in Iowa. Johnson County landed at $10.10 an hour. Polk County workers would make a minimum of $10.25 in 2019, the county can actually enforce the local mandate. We fully admit, those figures might prove to exorbitant for a statewide minimum drafted for communities both rural and urban.
Maybe it's $9 an hour. Maybe it's $10. That's why study and legislative hearings exist.
One thing's for certain: It's not $7.25. That number was obsolete almost immediately after the last federal wage increase in 2007.