By Stephanie Sandoval
JEFFERSON CITY — Alexis Straughter is a single mother of two young girls who works at the Royal Oak Nursing and Rehab in St. Louis. She makes $10.45 an hour, and she said it’s still not enough.
“I’ve been trying to make ends meet,” she said. “It just doesn’t work.”
Straughter shared her story last week at a press conference in support of Raise Up Missouri’s initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage. The press conference, held at the Missouri secretary of state’s office on West Main Street, was organized by Missouri business leaders and workers.
The initiative would raise the current minimum wage from $7.85 to $8.60 in 2019 and then increase it by 85 cents every year until it reaches $12 an hour in 2023.
“Right now people across the state are working full-time and are struggling to provide for their families, and they’re living in poverty,” Carl Walz, campaign manager for Raise Up Missouri, said at the press conference. “For years, the cost of basic necessities have continued to go up. The wages have not kept up.”
To put the initiative on the November ballot, Raise Up Missouri gathered over 120,000 signatures and officially submitted those signatures to the secretary of state’s office May 2. An initiative that would change state law must garner at least 100,000 signatures from registered voters in six of Missouri’s congressional districts, according to a guide to the petition process from the secretary of state’s office.
Raise Up Missouri said it collected signatures in every county in Missouri.
Missouri Business for a Fair Minimum Wage also publicly announced its support for the initiative at the press conference.
Over 200 business owners and executives have signed Missouri Business for a Fair Minimum Wage’s online statement in support of gradually increasing Missouri’s minimum wage. Some of the signees include Main Squeeze, Salon Nefisa, Pizza Head and Yellow Dog Bookstore.
Lew Prince, treasurer of Raise Up Missouri and a manager for Missouri Business for Fair Minimum Wage, said the current minimum wage is too low.
“We believe no one that works full-time should have to live in poverty or have to struggle to take care of a family,” Prince said. “No one who works full-time should have to choose between food and medicine.”
Prince is the co-founder and former CEO of Vintage Vinyl in University City. He said that the plan is “simple, gradual and budget-able” and that increasing the wage will help people become more self-reliant.
He also said raising the minimum wage would affect over 670,000 workers in Missouri, dramatically increase consumer buying power, and ultimately create economic growth and jobs. He said it would also cut government spending and save taxpayers money.
A packet provided by Raise Up Missouri cited a recent study from the Labor Center at the University of California at Berkeley, saying that it “showed poverty wages for working families in Missouri alone are costing federal taxpayers more than $2.4 billion annually and taxpayers more than $335 million each year.”
There are arguments about whether raising the minimum wage will benefit or harm workers and businesses. Critics say raising the minimum wage will cause layoffs, price increases and fewer hirings.
Pizza Head owner Scott Sandler said the idea that a higher minimum wage hurts business growth is based on the false assumption that productivity remains the same and that businesses simply incur a higher payrolls.
“In actuality, with higher wages comes higher productivity, lower turnover, better morale — and that reduces your labor cost per unit in the long-run,” Sandler said. “So, again, it’s a false notion that raising wages raises costs.”
Raise Up Missouri is waiting for certification from the secretary of state’s office for the initiative to be put on the ballot. Tony Wyche with Raise Up Missouri said they should hear back in the next few months.