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Viewpoint: Raising minimum wage will help workers and state economy

More Minnesotans are working, and our state unemployment rate of 4.8 percent is among the lowest in the nation. We are home to the fifth-fastest growing economy in the U.S. Sound financial decisions at the state level have resulted in projected surpluses of nearly $1 billion. Minnesotans are experiencing the lowest levy increases we have seen in the last five years. For many homeowners, property taxes have finally started to go down.

Thanks to sound fiscal discipline by the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton, pledges we made are being honored and our schools will be repaid in full for the funding borrowed from them in previous years. Starting next year, parents will not have to pay extra for all-day kindergarten. Tuition is frozen at public colleges and universities. These priorities were aimed to help grow the middle-class. As a state, we have come a long way since the Great Recession, but our Legislature can do more to make sure the economic turnaround reaches all Minnesotans.

At the top of the to-do list is raising the wage for the state’s lowest-paid workers. Minnesota’s working poor have been disproportionately impacted by the Great Recession. All workers should be part of Minnesota’s economic recovery, yet our state’s minimum wage has not been increased since 2005. Despite working long hours and more than one job, too many Minnesotans still cannot afford to provide for their families without support from the community. We all pay more when Minnesotans do not earn enough to provide for themselves or their families.

Our local churches, food shelf and local thrift shop do amazing work with the resources our community generously provides. Families in need are served by the caring assistance of our neighbors. But being forced to rely on the generosity of others is not a long-term solution. It is essential that work be fairly rewarded, from a teenager working in a fast food restaurant to pay for college or trade school, to a retail employee trying to support a family. Raising the minimum wage to $9.50 would provide a real opportunity for a sustainable future.

Raising the minimum wage also helps the state budget by increasing revenue through payroll taxes and reducing the number of people forced to utilize public assistance. Some 400,000 workers in Minnesota would directly benefit from a wage raise to $9.50, pumping an additional $1 billion annually into the economy. Raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do for workers, and it’s the right thing to do to help Minnesota continue to prosper.

Minnesotans can be proud that we have returned our state to sound financial footing. Our economy is strong and growing. Now we need to continue the progress we have made and work to grow opportunity for all Minnesotans.

Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, represents Senate District 54, which includes south Washington County communities, Hastings and part of South St. Paul.