Minimum Wage Hike Promoted, Questioned

Nov. 10, 2021, midnight ·

Petition to raise Nebraska minimum wage is being circulated (Source: Secretary of State's office)
Petition to raise Nebraska minimum wage is being circulated (Source: Secretary of State's office)

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As advocates gear up their campaign to raise Nebraska’s minimum wage, the head of the state chamber of commerce says other changes might benefit workers more.

A coalition called “Raise the Wage Nebraska” has begun collecting initiative petition signatures to put an increase of the state’s minimum wage on next year’s election ballot. Right now, that wage is $9 an hour. The proposed measure would raise it by $1.50 a year starting in 2023 until it reaches $15 in 2026.

Speaking in a virtual conference this week, state Sen. Terrell McKinney, co-sponsor of the initiative, said it’s important, especially in these times. “Throughout this global pandemic, we’ve seen that many Nebraskans are not paid adequately. We rave about a low (un)employment rate, but forget that many people are working multiple jobs and not being paid very much,” McKinney said.

McKinney acknowledged some businesses are concerned about the proposed increase, but said studies have shown it would benefit the economy overall.

Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, says having states set different minimum wages creates administrative headaches, and raising the minimum wage can disadvantage small businesses. Slone said wages are already rising on their own, so the raises called for in the initiative could be moot. And he said there are already 50,000 to 70,000 jobs unfilled in Nebraska.

“The jobs are out there at the wages that people want. We really need to take a hard look at what are the impediments if getting people into the workforce, into the jobs that are available,” Slone said.

Slone said those impediments include a lack of low-income housing, child care, transportation and education.