Nebraska lawmakers to push for $9 minimum wage

Coalition of Nebraska lawmakers pushing to increase minimum wage to $9 per hour by 2017

Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- Nebraska lawmakers will consider a proposal this year to increase the state's minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2017.

The measure was introduced on Thursday by state Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha and 13 other lawmakers. Nordquist said the state has one of the nation's highest rates of working parents, but 18 percent of children in Nebraska lived in poverty in 2012, according to U.S. census data.

"Raising the minimum wage is about Nebraska values and about valuing work," Nordquist said. "Working hard and providing for our families is a core Nebraska value, and the ability to earn a decent living should be obtainable for all Nebraskans."

The bill was unveiled along with two other measures aimed at working- and middle-class Nebraska residents. Lawmakers also announced proposals to expand the state's earned income tax credit and to require paid family medical and sick leave.

President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are pushing legislation this year to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour over two years.

Nebraska's current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, which matches the federal rate. Twenty-one states have higher minimum wages, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The last federal rate increase was approved by President George W. Bush in 2007 and went into effect two years later.

Nebraska's rate is the same as neighboring Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas, but lower than Colorado's $8 hourly wage and the $7.50 wage in Missouri. Wyoming's state minimum wage is $5.15.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss said increasing Nebraska's minimum wage would likely result in job losses, although the impact in Nebraska might not be as great as in states with higher unemployment. Nebraska has the nation's third-lowest unemployment rate — behind North and South Dakota — and Goss said Nebraska's worker shortage encourages businesses to pay higher wages.

Goss said raising the minimum wage would likely hurt young and inexperienced workers, along with those in highly competitive industries such as fast food and retail. Goss said it also can drive businesses to states with lower minimum wages, or to other countries.

"There will be some workers that won't receive a job because they don't create a value equal to the minimum wage," Goss said. "It would make it more difficult for them to get a toe-hold in the labor market."

However, Goss said the minimum wage increase might encourage some of the unemployed to seek jobs, by closing the gap between the incentives to work and not to work. Goss said businesses in less competitive industries would also be better-positioned to absorb the cost.

Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton introduced a measure Thursday that would provide for up to six consecutive weeks of paid leave to care for a newborn, or an adopted or foster child. It also would apply to sick family members or workers who face serious medical problems. The federal Family Medical Leave Act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but Dubas said it only covers about half of the nation's workforce.

"Under current law, employees are torn between take of their family and staying on their career paths," Dubas said. "Paid family leave allows workers to be both caregivers and breadwinners."

Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln said she will propose an increase in Nebraska's earned income tax credit, from its current 10 percent of the federal tax credit to 13 percent. About 138,000 Nebraskans would qualify, Conrad said. Colorado offers a 10 percent tax credit, Iowa recently increased its credit to 15 percent, and Kansas raised its credit to 17 percent.

"It has had a tremendous effect in rewarding work and lifting families up and out of poverty, and lessening their reliance on public assistance," Conrad said.

Rebecca Gould, executive director of the public-interest group Nebraska Appleseed, said the wage increase would provide greater stability for working families.

"The economy has changed and left too many hard-working Nebraskans behind," Gould said. The bill represents "a step toward rebuilding Nebraska's middle class and safeguarding the ability of working Nebraskans to care for and provide for their families."

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The minimum wage bill is LB943. The family sick leave bill is LB955.

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