Proposed minimum wage raise debated

A minimum wage hike inched closer to reality earlier this month with the encouragement of two high-ranking state government officials. But some officials and economics experts aren't sure of the benefits of such a move, especially for low-skilled workers like student employees.

In his State of the State speech on Jan.12, Gov. Jim Doyle urged a minimum increase to $6.50.

"I believe going from $5.15 to $6.50 an hour for people who haven't had a raise in seven years is reasonable," Doyle said in his speech. "It's time to approve a higher, statewide minimum wage of $6.50 an hour."

Earlier this month, Assembly Speaker John Gard (R-Peshtigo) said he would agree to a minimum wage of $6 an hour, according to the Associated Press. In an interview with The Marquette Tribune, a spokesman for Gard said he did not support the increase to $6.50 that Doyle is seeking.

"The speaker supports an increase in minimum wage, but he believes that the governor's figure of $6.50 is too high," said Steve Baas, the spokesman.

Gard believes that a minimum wage increase to $6.50 would put Wisconsin at an "economic disadvantage" by decreasing the state's ability to compete for jobs, according to Baas.

"When a company looks at Wisconsin, they look at a lot of factors. Our wage is one of those factors, and so everything you do to increase that makes Wisconsin a less attractive place to put those jobs," Baas said.

Marquette economics professors consulted by The Tribune echoed these sentiments.

Minimum wage increases tend to reduce the number of entry-level and unskilled jobs that are available because employers must spend more on wages per employee and so can hire fewer employees, according to Steve Crane, associate professor of economics.

An unskilled job is one that can be performed by someone who is physically and mentally capable but lacks any formal education or work experience that would develop marketable jobs skills, according to Tim Keaveny, professor of management. Some student employment jobs, such as cafeteria workers, meet this definition.

Crane said he didn't think a minimum wage increase from $5.15 to $6 or $6.50 would have much of an impact on Milwaukee's business and labor fronts.

"There is likely to be some impact," but "I suspect that the effect will not be that pronounced," Crane said.

Rosey Kobbs, an on-campus employee who makes less than $6.50 per hour, said she does not agree with efforts to increase the minimum wage.

"For me personally, a raise, given the limited hours that I work, wouldn't be that much money anyway," said Kobbs, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. "(But) a minimum wage increase would not be beneficial to Wisconsin because it would mean so much job loss, and that's an area that Milwaukee and Wisconsin have been trying so hard to correct."

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Jan. 20 2005.