The push to raise the minimum wage: Who might be helped or hurt?

February 1, 2019
In The News

LAS VEGAS (KSNV) — For Congresswoman Susie Lee, D-Nevada, it's standing room only Friday at a roundtable on raising the minimum wage. Her office was crammed with people, many minimum wage workers, who say they can’t live on what they’re earning.

Shonda Austin brought her energetic toddler with her because she can’t afford childcare. For her family, Austin says in order to make ends meet, her husband has to find work out of state.

“If the minimum wage was lifted, then possibly what he does, he could stay in the same city and state as me and do his job and get what we need to get by,” Austin says.

Lee is a co-sponsor of a bill that would gradually raise America's minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour by 2024. It’s called the “Raise the Wage Act.”

“This is a gradual increase,” Lee tells me. “I always say if you believe in ‘trickle down’ economics, you gotta believe in ‘trickle up’ economics. And if people are able to earn more, they're gonna buy more and they're gonna support businesses as well.”

Speaking of businesses, in the same Henderson building Lee has her office, you'll find the Truffles 'N Bacon Cafe.

Owner Magnolia Magat has 18 employees. She says a $15 minimum wage would double her cost of labor, which she says you'd wind up paying.

“It would not allow us to keep our current costs right now. So maybe we would pass it on to the consumers,” Magat says.

In Nevada, we have a two-tier minimum wage: $7.25/hr if your job offers health insurance and $8.25/hr if it doesn't. Of our state’s 1.4 million workers, the bureau of labor statistics says 1.4 percent earn minimum wage or lower.

Workers, like some of the people I met at Congresswoman Lee’s office, are being squeezed not only by economics but soon by technology.

Artificial intelligence may replace many low-wage jobs, a trend that could accelerate, experts say, if employees get more expensive.

It’s the brave new world, and Lee says it’s more reason to be ready for the future.

“Basically, we need to invest in workforce development and making sure that we’re training people for the jobs of the 21st century,” Lee says.

People like Jorge Franco, a painter who attended Friday's roundtable, says a boost in the minimum wage would be a good investment.

“They can support the families. We can reduce the stress on the families,” Franco says.

Raising the minimum wage will be on the table for discussion at the upcoming Nevada Legislature, which convenes Feb. 4.

Gov. Steve Sisolak, D-Nevada, has proposed raising the minimum wage, although he has not set a target for any increase.