Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and many on the City Council pledged to make closing racial equity gaps—in education, housing, healthcare and jobs—their highest priority.
As politicians fund studies, make speeches and investigate trendy new approaches for these critical problems one simple policy has so far stayed off the table—raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour (about $31,000 per year).
Other cities with local government controlled by the Democratic Party have acted. Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and SeaTac have already passed a $15-per-hour minimum, after massive campaigns by workers and labor unions organizing in their communities and workplaces. So far, these success stories have had no effect on the mayor or City Council majority.
In Minneapolis, 28% of residents live in poverty. Those numbers are even higher for families of color, including 49% of Black households, 65% of American Indians, and 34% of Latinos.
Workers have told their stories repeatedly to the City Council and now are backing it with hard data. The recent Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL) survey of low wage workers, as covered by the Star Tribune, makes the stakes very clear: “Among the findings: 80% of the survey takers—who make an average of $10.34 per hour—said they have to work at least two jobs to cover living expenses. About half of the people surveyed said they had experienced workplace wage theft by employers and 20% said they’d been injured on the job.”
Working two jobs at low wages enforces the grinding schedules and daily tensions that weaken our communities. No matter how much a low wage parent loves their children and values education, when you are working two jobs for little money it is difficult to make time for the parent teacher meetings, help with homework, story time and other supportive actions that help children make the most of school.
Low wages—especially when combined with on-call scheduling and the risk of wage theft—force low wage workers into a life on the edge where one late bus, on-the-job injury or unexpected car repair can lead to unimaginable difficulties, the loss of a job or even homelessness.
What does this mean for South Minneapolis? Several Southside neighborhoods would stand to make major gains from a substantial minimum wage increase.
For a quick survey of the problem we can start out looking at Southside neighborhoods and zip codes. The 55406, 55407 and 55408 zip codes all have poverty rates above 33%, with 55408 approaching 50%. Powderhorn, Phillips and Central neighborhood households have incomes below $35,000 per year at rates from 37% to as high as 71% in West Phillips.
In Minneapolis, Black, Latino and American-Indian families are three times as likely as whites to be living in poverty. Single women head two-thirds of Minneapolis families in poverty. There is no single measure that would close the racial and gender equity gaps like raising the minimum wage to $15/hour. Estimates show that with a new $15-per-hour wage, over a third of Minneapolis workers would get a raise.
With more disposable income in workers’ pockets, small locally owned businesses would thrive, helping to knit our community together. This has been the case in Seattle where more restaurants will open this year than in the previous two years. For Minneapolis and for the Southside, this would be transformative.