Missouri’s minimum wage increased to $9.45 an hour this week.
The 85-cent wage hike, which took effect Jan. 1, is part of a five-year series of raises voters approved by a wide margin in 2018. The minimum wage will increase each year until it reaches $12 an hour in 2023.
The increase will help Frances Holmes, who made $9 an hour at a McDonald’s in University City, afford grocery bills.
“Forty-five cents is a help. It’s going to put food on my table, which is a good thing. But I’m still living in poverty,” she said. “We’re not making it on $9, $10 an hour. You can’t make it with $9 or $10 an hour when your rent is $700 a month.”
That’s why Holmes volunteers with Fight for $15, a group working to unionize fast-food workers nationwide. Holmes said unions could work for employment contracts that require regular raises for employees — without relying on local or state lawmakers to boost the minimum wage.
She said a $15-an-hour minimum wage would change her life.
That’s what Illinois’ minimum wage will be by 2025. Gov. J.B. Pritzker approved the increase last year, which made Illinois the first state in the Midwest to sign a $15 minimum wage into law.
Some restaurant owners and retailers have railed against the raises and cited studies that question whether higher minimum wages actually help workers.
A national study by Washington University Olin Business School researchers found that increased wages helped some workers, but disadvantaged others.
Workers who already had minimum wage jobs benefitted — and weren’t more likely to get laid off, said Barton Hamilton, one of the study’s authors.
“But for people that don't have a job, it makes it less likely that they're going to be able to get a job,” Hamilton said.
The study found that the number of low-wage jobs decreased in several states that passed 10% minimum wage increases. That means that if unemployment rises, Missouri’s wage increases could make job searches harder for minimum-wage workers, he said.
But Hamilton also said that many employers in St. Louis have already had to pay above minimum wage to attract workers.
“Some people think it’s all just one way or the other. The important thing for people to understand is that this can be good for some people and bad for others,” he said.
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