LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — Over these last few weeks, we’ve seen efforts in Congress to hike the federal minimum wage.
Monday in Lincoln, one state senator tried to do the same in Nebraska — progressively raising the minimum wage up to $20 an hour.
While Nebraska has a low unemployment rate of right around 3%, Nebraska Sen. Terrell McKinney, who represents North Omaha, said many of the people he represents are not making enough and working two jobs to make ends meet.
In fact, his district makes less, on average, than any other legislative district in the state.
His bill would slowly, but drastically escalate Nebraska's minimum wage — going up one dollar an hour annually and eventually settling at $20 an hour.
“We have to show we care more about these people and less about business owners," he said. "Business owners, since they’re so smart, they’ll find a way to survive. But we have to take care of Nebraskans,” said McKinney.
One business group, the Lincoln Independent Business Association (LIBA), spoke against the bill.
Dallas Jones, with LIBA, said business owners are already paying what they can afford and a wage hike could lead to unintended consequences.
“Many businesses will close and the very jobs that proponents of this bill hoped would drive people out of poverty, would vanish,” said Jones.
McKinney sought to disprove myths that minimum wage workers are lazy, saying they kept the economy going during the pandemic.
“If all these people were showing up to work late, lazy, didn’t care about the job, how would we have survived during the pandemic when all these individuals were still showing up to work and giving us food and making sure the shelves were stocked,” said McKinney.
Northeast Nebraska state senator Tim Gragert, who sits on the Business and Labor Committee, told McKinney he’s worried about the cost of products going up if this goes into effect.
“My brother owns a grocery store. All the prices of groceries are going to go up, as the price of minimum wage goes up,” said Gragert.
Numbers show it would be tough to make a living on the current minimum wage, which nets an annual salary of around $19,000.
If this bill went into effect, that same person would be making over $41,000 by 2032.
A federal minimum wage increase to $15 an hour was originally going to be in the next COVID relief bill, but due to senate procedures, that item was removed.