Mar 12, 2021 - News

Polk County to push for $15 minimum wage

Illustration of an escalator with steps made out of 5 and 10 dollar bills.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Polk County is resurrecting a plan to raise the minimum wage, this time to $15 an hour and focusing on government workers — possibly severing ties with private contractors who fail to meet the mark.

Why it matters: If you’ve recently purchased groceries or paid an electric bill, you already know that our $7.25 minimum is not nearly enough to sustain any practical standard of living.

  • Yes, it would mean a higher cost of doing business for our county government, but supporters say the benefits far exceed any budget pain.

Flashback: We’ve played this wage war before.

  • Our state lawmakers have not approved a minimum wage increase in 12 years and multiple efforts on the federal level have flunked.
  • Local efforts that set higher wage standards across the board were slapped down in 2017 by the Iowa Legislature. But the law still allows local governments to set standards for themselves.

What’s new: Polk County Supervisors agreed this week to revisit a wage hike but have not yet drafted a proposal or scheduled public meetings about the idea.

  • This time the minimum would be limited to county workers and contractors doing business with Polk. Private businesses not doing work for the county would not be affected.
  • The contractor ban could extend to those that also don’t pay the minimum to other workers — even those not working Polk jobs, Supervisor Matt McCoy told Jason.

The vast majority of those impacted by the wage increase would be roughly 60 to 80 seasonal employees who currently make below the proposed minimum.

  • Raising wages for those workers would cost the county about $200k a year.

Be smart: The United Way ALICE Report for Iowa says a family with two kids would need at least one adult earning $28.43 or both earning $14.21 per hour to cover basic household costs.

  • Iowa polls have for years shown strong support for increasing the minimum wage.

The other side: Some of our small business owners say raising the minimum could create hardships.

What’s next: Expect Polk Supervisors to unveil a proposal in coming weeks.

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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