On the street
I’ve only had one job, but I get at least $7.50 an hour. I teach piano lessons at Lawrence Piano Studio.
Topeka — If anyone knows what it's like working for low wages, it's college students.
That's why some Kansas University students said Tuesday they would support a proposal before lawmakers to increase the state minimum wage, which is the lowest in the nation.
"For two summers, I worked a job where I was paid the federal minimum wage," said Stephanie Temaat, a KU sophomore from Spearville. "Some money is better than no money, but it was still very hard to live on. I can't imagine people who work full time and try to support a family on minimum wage."
Landon Horstman, a KU freshman making $7.25 an hour at Mrs. E's cafeteria on campus, agreed. "I wouldn't want to live the rest of my life on $7.25 an hour. That wouldn't be a comfortable wage to have."
But while federal minimum wage is $5.85 per hour, Kansas minimum wage is $2.65 per hour and hasn't increased in 20 years.
The state minimum wage affects about 19,000 workers, mostly in service or agricultural jobs, who aren't covered by the federal minimum wage law, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Before the Senate Commerce Committee is Senate Bill 466. It would increase the state minimum wage to track the federal minimum wage when it increases from $5.85 per hour to $6.55 per hour later this year, and to $7.25 per hour in 2009.
At a committee hearing, advocates for the working poor said the state rate was outdated, unjust and an embarrassment.
"It's fair, it's just and something we ought to be doing," said Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan.
Bob Newsome, chairman of the Riley County Board of Commissioners, said many college students are hurt by the state minimum wage.
"The low wages for low-skilled jobs forces college students to live in poverty while in school and simultaneously encourages them to incur significant student loan debt," he said.
But business lobbyists and a KU professor said attempts to increase the state minimum wage would worsen conditions for workers on the lowest economic rung.
Sen. Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe, co-chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, said she needed more information on the issue.
"It's important for us to understand the average wage is in the neighborhood of $7 an hour. It begs the question, is the minimum wage even relevant?" Brownlee said.
Ron Hein, a lobbyist with the Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association, said increases in the minimum wage cause employers to not hire as many unskilled workers. He suggested getting rid of the state minimum wage altogether.
Arthur Hall, executive director of the Center for Applied Economics at KU's School of Business, said in submitted testimony that "there is general agreement that these (minimum wage) laws do more harm than good" by reducing employment opportunities for young people and those with fewer skills.
But Heidi Zeller, of Lawrence, speaking on behalf of Kansas Action Network, said paying a decent wage helps workers, families and the economy.
She said that after an increase in the federal minimum wage in 1996, "the economy experienced its strongest growth in over three decades."