Mark Batt

The minimum wage has been a hotly contested issue in recent history. We have seen many states and cities raise their minimum wages; notably, the minimum wage is now nearly $15/hour in Seattle, Washington. Most recently, Gov. Heineman came out in opposition to a Nebraska minimum wage increase . However, there are those who argue raising the minimum wage – at least to keep up with the cost of living – is a necessary facet of membership in our society. Both arguments carry some weight, but public policy should be aimed at helping as many people as possible, and I therefore believe the minimum wage should be raised and voters should approve the ballot initiative in November.

Raising the minimum wage can positively affect the average worker in many ways. A higher minimum wage would increase the ability of these workers to contribute to our economy and provide for their families. However, there are many types of business that are exempt from federal wage such as the agricultural sector. This amounts to one-third of Nebraska’s current employment. One-third of Nebraska’s current employment is farm-related, which is exempt from standards set by the federal government. Therefore, up to two-thirds of the state’s employees are subject to minimum wage standards. There are approximately 100,000 other jobs unrelated to farming that are also exempt from minimum wage requirements. Because Nebraska’s unemployment rate is so low, this means there are nearly 1 million people in Nebraska who meet the threshold for the minimum wage. Nebraskans for Better Wages have recently pushed a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour over the next two years in Nebraska. The initiative has recently made the threshold for a vote by the people in November.

The minimum wage hike may not affect as many people as intended, thus making this ballot initiative and similar policies futile. Contrarily, any raise in the minimum wage that’s at least somewhat consistent with the cost of living should be seen as a positive action, and efforts to raise the minimum wage are positive policy. This action, however, should only be implemented if the effect on business owners in the state of Nebraska is at least not negative – even though it may not benefit them greatly.

We can raise the minimum wage all we want, but if business owners are unable to hire people or had to cut back their number of employees, this policy could in essence hurt more than it helps. We need to recognize this as a legitimate argument, separate from any ideological inconsistencies, and implement positive public policy. The minimum wage is supposed to help workers live with what they’re paid, but somehow this standard hasn’t been met with a consistent attentiveness to the rise of the cost of living. Therefore, we’re allowing workers to become disenfranchised members of our society and economy.

The minimum wage should be raised incrementally over a short period of time but without hurting business owners. The Nebraskans for Better Wages initiative to raise the wage to $9/hour over the next two years does just that. However, we should be aware of this raise’s impact upon businesses and their owners. Business owners and their employees have always been a vital facet of our economy, whether at the federal, state or local levels. Government and business need to work together in order to provide the best environment for employees, businesses and government to coexist in the U.S. economy. This can be deemed a bipartisan effort that we have not seen recently from our unpopular members of Congress.

Citizens need to recognize the importance of this debate and think strongly about what their vote should be in November. This ever-turning circle of both private and public relationships need not be hurt but strengthened as well as understood to the fullest extent, which may stem from personal experiences.

I have worked for the minimum wage before, and I’m sure you have as well. Many have asked, why do we need to raise the minimum wage at all? Some will say the minimum wage is only for college students, and that it’s good for the younger generation to understand the value of a dollar. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, however, 40 percent of fast food workers are more than 25 years old. Trying to raise families and make ends meet on less than $10 an hour is impossible. Even so, there are some people who still feel adults working for the minimum wage should advance themselves, whether through education or skills training, but that’s not the responsibility of our government. I want to live in a state and a country that helps the disenfranchised the most, that aids citizens in need instead of lining the pockets of the best-off citizens.

Mark Batt is a senior political science major. Reach him at opinion@dailynebraskan.com