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News from EPI New Report Calls Higher Minimum Wage to Counter Wisconsin’s Epidemic of Poverty-Wage Work

700,000 Wisconsinites, one of every four workers in the state, earns less than $11.36 per hour—the wage required for a full-time, full-year worker to keep a family of four out of poverty – according to a new report from Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

The report, Raise the Floor Wisconsin—Minimum Wage Edition, helps draw a more complete picture of poverty-wage work in Wisconsin, using federal data to highlight problems in the labor market, the workers that stands to gain from a higher minimum wage, the jobs these workers hold, and the real costs of living that Wisconsinites face. The report also challenges the argument that raising the minimum wage is bad for business.

Contrary to popular imagination, poverty-wage workers in Wisconsin are not primarily teenagers working part-time for pocket change. The median age of a poverty-wage worker in Wisconsin is 30 and nearly 4 in 5 are age 20 or older. “Despite the fact that Wisconsin workers are older, better educated, and more productive than a generation ago, many, especially those at the bottom of the labor market, are being paid less today,” said Laura Dresser, COWS Associate Director.

The transformation of the state’s economy in recent decades has been dramatic. Three growing low-wage sectors – food service, retail, and residential and home health care – account for more than 40% of Wisconsin’s poverty-wage jobs. Manufacturing, which employed one Wisconsin worker in three in 1979, now employs less than 1 in 5. But even manufacturing jobs don’t pay what they used to, with the manufacturing wage advantage falling to 7% in 2013 from 21% in 1979, a function, in part, of declining unionization in the state.

While the report uses $11.36 per hour as the cut-off for poverty-wage work, based on the current federal poverty threshold, poverty researchers broadly agree that the federal standard needs updating and is much too low. Using EPI’s Family Budget Calculator, which provides more reasonable and humane estimates of income needed to secure a decent standard of living, the report finds a single parent with one child in Wisconsin would need to earn $23.56 per hour on average working full time year-round. Two working parents with two children would each need to earn $17.29 per hour working full time year-round.

There is little evidence that an increase in the minimum wage would hurt the economy. In fact, new research shows that states that raised their minimum wage in 2014 have experienced comparable or even more job growth than states that didn’t.

For more information, contact Laura Dresser, Associate Director, COWS, at (608) 262-6944 or