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Minimum Wage Hike In Indiana Could Be A Tough Sell

Minimum wage

The federal minimum wage has remained stagnant at $7.25 an hour since 2009.

As a result, more states are getting involved to boost the pay for their lowest earners. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia now have a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum.

Democrats have tried to lead a push in Indiana, but can’t get past the Republican super majority.

They’re trying again this session, but the outcome seems unlikely to be any different than in the past.

Barely Getting By

These are the moments Shynaka Jakes lives for – seeing her son happy and talking about his day at school.

“I don’t like disappointing my kids,” she says.

Jakes, 26, has four kids, but only her son is living with her right now.

“He’s wanting to be around his sisters," Jakes says. "That’s all he says. So now it’s getting tough because he’s not wanting to listen, and he’s acting out. It’s just ‘I want what I want’ and it’s getting difficult.”

Make no mistake about it, being with her children is what Jakes wants, too, but she says, on her current income, she can maintain care for only one of her kids.

Jakes makes minimum wage - $7.25 an hour – working part-time at an Arby’s just a few blocks from her home in Indianapolis. Her pay check can usually cover one, maybe one and a half, of her bills.

“After a while, when you’re just paying partial, it just puts you back further and further and further and makes the balance higher,” she says.

Her situation right now is pretty dire.

Jakes doesn’t have heat, so she’s using her oven to keep herself and her son warm.

She recently moved into an apartment on Indianapolis’ northeast side, and she’s already behind on the rent.

"Right now my rent isn’t even paid for January because of my check and the way [my supervisor] has me scheduled. I didn’t have nothing but $50 to give the rent man," she says.

An Uphill Battle In Indiana

Some legislators at the Statehouse are pushing for a session dedicated to folks like Jakes — working-class Hoosiers who are struggling to make ends meet.

About 108,000 Hoosiers earned the minimum wage — or less — in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nationally, most workers who earn minimum wage are adults, but teens and young people make up a large share, too. Half of minimum-wage workers are under the age of 25.

Nearly 2 in 3 minimum-wage earners are female, and most earners work part time in the service industry, especially in restaurant and sales jobs.

Democrats want to make it so no one who works a 40-hour week falls below the poverty line.  They have two proposals — each would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour – one would do it in increments, and the other would raise the minimum wage one fell swoop.

John Ketzenberger, president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, says he thinks the push for a higher minimum wage faces a tough battle in Indiana.

“I think if Indiana raises the minimum wage it will be because the federal government says it has to,” he says.

Gov. Mike Pence laid out his priorities Tuesday during his 2015 state of the state address.

House minority leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, says the speech was telling for what wasn’t in it.

“There’s still people that are struggling out there," Pelath says. "They’re happy gas prices are down. That’s the first good news they’ve had in a while – didn’t have anything to do with Mike Pence.  They’re happy that there’s a national economic recovery and that the national economy is growing – didn’t have anything to do with Mike Pence. They’re also struggling in terms of household income and that’s not getting any better.”

Would A Wage Hike Help Jobs Or Hurt Them?

Arguments for and against raising the minimum wage can both be backed up with research.

Proponents of a wage hike maintain if you put more money into the hands of low-wage earners, there will be more money flowing through the economy and everyone will win.

Opponents say businesses – particularly those in service industries – will feel a huge hit and be forced to cut workers.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates half-a-million people could lose their jobs if the federal minimum wage goes up to $10.10.

Research Director at the Indiana Business Research Center Timothy Slaper says those jobs likely wouldn't disappear from states such as Oregon, Washington and California.

"These are states that most of the locals have minimum wage laws that are higher than the federal minimum — and probably higher than the $10.10 mark," he says. "The ones that are going to go away are those in low-cost, low-wage states – Tennessee, Indiana.”

That gets to the idea of a free market – and the idea that if the market demands additional wages, pay will go up.

That’s the tone Indiana’s Republican super majority has taken when similar proposals have been introduced in previous years. Republican leaders point out that, while Indiana ranks among the worst in the nation in per-capita income, the cost of living is also low.

Back at her house, Jakes says meeting her basic needs are still difficult. She says her biggest fear is winding up homeless.

She says she wants legislators to put themselves in her shoes.

“You just have to take a moment to step out of your shoes and step into ours," she says. "See the stuff we have go through when we have to deal with not being able to cover the rent, or cover or light bill or go without gas. I think they just need to come off their high horse they’re sitting on, and come into our lifestyle for a day or two and see what we have to struggle with or go through, and their vision on it would be different."

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