After 13 Years of the Federal Minimum Wage, Nebraskans are Aiming to Hike Their Own

July 22, 2022, 6 a.m. ·

The exterior of Raygun's Omaha location in the Old Market
Raygun, a clothing and design store in Omaha, is one of the many Nebraska businesses who support raising the minimum wage. (Courtesy photo)

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Thirteen years after the federal government last raised the federal minimum wage, a ballot initiative in Nebraska aims to raise Nebraska’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026.

Petition organizers submitted nearly double the required number of signatures earlier this month to the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office. The petition proposes gradually raising the minimum wage each year.

“I think Nebraska's graduated scale is fairly conservative and will be easy to hit,” said Mike Draper, who owns Raygun, a clothing and design store in Omaha. “And it's adequate for businesses to plan for.”

Raygun, one of many Nebraska businesses who’ve announced support for the petition, has expanded to seven locations across the Midwest since opening in 2005.

“The business is about as old as the last time we raised the federal minimum wage,” Draper said.

A headshot of Mike Draper dressed in a blue Patagonia zip up jacket
Mike Draper (Courtesy photo)

Some opponents argue raising the minimum wage would force business owners to raise their prices amid record inflation.

"The Nebraska Hospitality Association does not see the minimum wage ballot initiative as a necessary issue for our industry," said Zoe Olson, the executive director of the trade organization.

Olson said many managers in the hospitality industry already pay well above the minimum wage, especially in this competitive employment market. She said the starting wages will only increase from there.

Even though her organization may not support the hike in wages, she said they'll respect the voice of Nebraska voters if the initiative passes.

In Draper's home state of Iowa, petitioned ballot initiatives aren’t allowed under state law. He said he envies that of Nebraska.

“On the macroeconomic scale, the thing the U.S. needs to worry about is the income gap,” Draper said. “Not for a moral reason, but because when you concentrate money in fewer hands it's going to slow down the movement of money, which slowly slows down the rest of the economy.”

And to combat the income gap, Draper said he’s run his business almost like Nebraska’s ballot initiative. “We have steadily increased our wage,” he said.

When he started the business, he said he paid $9 per hour. Now, with over 100 employees, it stands at $14 per hour and will increase this October to $15.

Nebraskans should know if the initiative will be on the ballot by mid-September, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, which is counting and verifying the signatures now.

If the initiative both qualifies for the ballot and voters pass it, Nebraska’s minimum wage would increase from $9 to $10.50 per hour by 2023, $12 by 2024, $13.50 by 2025 and $15 by 2026, followed by yearly cost of living adjustments.