After winning a four-way race to become the Republican nominee for Minnesota’s governor’s mansion, Jeff Johnson — a former attorney for the agri-giant Cargill — told reporters that he would slow the growth in the state’s minimum wage if elected.
“The minimum wage should not be what anybody aspires to, they should aspire to a career,” he said. “They should aspire to a job that allows them to raise a family. The minimum wage won’t do that.”
Just a few weeks ago, Minnesota increased its minimum wage for the first time in nearly a decade. As of August 1st, workers at companies that make more than $625,000 a year will earn $8 dollars per hour, which will go up to $9.50 per hour in 2016. But the new law includes a lot of caps, delays and loopholes for small businesses and all workers under age 20, who will make significantly less. Before these changes, the state was one of just four in the country to have a minimum wage lower than the federal level of $7.25 an hour.
Additionally, beginning in 2018, the wage will be indexed to inflation, meaning it will increase automatically each year, but never more than 2.5% no matter how much the cost of living goes up.
But Johnson told reporters he opposes this, and called instead for the state legislature and governor to have to approve each increase. “I think it’s bad policy to have an automatic inflator in the minimum wage,” he said.
About 325 thousand workers stand to benefit from the wage increases, according to the non-partisan Minnesota Budget Project. The increase will especially benefit women and people of color, who make up the majority of minimum wage workers in Minnesota and nationwide. But the economists there say it’s not enough. After years of stagnant wages, their studies show Minnesota families “can’t afford basic needs,” and “may have to live in substandard housing.” They calculate that the wage would have to be $16.46 an hour for workers to be able to rent adequate, affordable housing, and in more expensive areas, like Minneapolis-St. Paul, a worker would need $18.19 an hour, or 2.5 jobs at the federal minimum wage.
Johnson, who will face off with Governor Mark Dayton this November, followed up his comments in opposition to minimum wage increases with a description of goals that seem to require those same increases.
“I have a vision of a state where we abandon the principle that the poor are poor and the rich are rich and all we can do is redistribute the wealth,” he said. “Instead, we are celebrating the people who are successful and never giving up on the people in this state who are poor. We are preaching a belief that the poor can become the middle class and the middle class can become rich. And anyone who starts with nothing can achieve anything in this state.”