Vote yes on Prop B to fight poverty in Missouri

| Staff Writer

Student Life published two articles last week about the state and county proposals that will appear on the ballot during Tuesday’s midterm elections, but we know there’s nothing more riveting than state-level initiatives. So, here comes some more of that sweet, sweet state policy content. Among the statewide measures is Proposition B, which would raise the minimum wage for most employers in Missouri to $12 an hour. Always a hot button issue, the minimum wage is especially salient now that cities and states across the country have raised theirs in the face of vocal activism. So, I think it’s important to take a look at why we need a minimum wage hike and what might happen if Prop B passes.

Prop B would begin a gradual increase in the state’s minimum wage to bring it to $12 by 2023. Right now, the minimum wage in Missouri is $7.85 per hour, a poverty-level wage that would give a full-time worker about $16,000 yearly pay. In other words, in one year, a minimum wage worker in Missouri makes less than one-fourth of what it costs us to attend Washington University.

In the last 50 years, the real value of the minimum wage has fallen by 25 percent, even as the economy as a whole has grown astronomically during the same period. As anyone who’s heard any political commentary in the last decade knows, wealth and income inequality continue to grow in the U.S., as those at the top hoard more and more of the gains from economic growth. By forcing employers to pay their workers more fairly, we can mitigate some of the worst effects of that inequality and lift some people out of poverty.

Paying more to people who are struggling to get by sounds pretty good. But then your “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” friends point you to articles that raise concerns about the negative effects on firms’ hiring—if it costs more to employ people, companies won’t employ as many people. Fortunately, you can point them to the fact that in the first six cities that have raised the minimum wage above $10 per hour, there’s been no decrease in hiring. These cities have, however, seen significant increases in—get this—the money earned by low-wage workers.

If Prop B passes—which even opponents like the Missouri Chamber of Commerce believe it will—we could see tangible benefits in the community. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that every 10 percent minimum wage increase leads to a 10.9 percent drop in black and Hispanic poverty, a figure especially important in a place like St. Louis with such a history of racial inequity.

Notably, the 2023 rate of $12 is substantially less than that supported by groups like Fight for $15, an aptly named organization that advocates for a minimum wage of $15 per hour. If the proposition passes on Tuesday, Missourians should be careful not to become complacent with the new trajectory for the state’s minimum wage. After 2024, the rate will be indexed to inflation, and low-wage workers’ pay will be much better than it is now. But it still won’t be as high as many advocacy groups had hoped; so, efforts to pass more ambitious hikes—as well as other anti-poverty and pro-worker measures—will still be essential, and they’ll depend on support from the same people who pass Prop B.

More immediately, the reason to avoid complacency is that the conservative state government can conceivably nullify the proposition. With the proposition, Missouri voters are essentially just trying to put a new law on the books, and the legislature, by definition, has the power to change what laws are on the books. It’s done that very recently, on this very issue: When the city of St. Louis raised its minimum wage to $10 an hour last year, the legislature passed a law forbidding the increase. While the optics of striking down a popular statewide proposal would be less than ideal, it’s nowhere near out of the question. But even if shame does still exist in politics, and the proposition becomes and remains law, the state will likely still try to curtail unions’ and workers’ power.

All we can do this week is to vote yes on Prop B. And after Tuesday, we can start worrying about holding the government to it, expanding on the proposition’s progress and supporting workers in Missouri and across the country.

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