Low-Income Workers Pulling for Minimum Wage Increase

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LINCOLN, Neb. -- The debate is one people hear often - increasing the minimum wages helps families makes ends meet; or, increasing the minimum wage ends up cutting jobs and hurting business.

Tyra Andera sees it from the side of someone earning around the minimum, trying to make ends meet while earning a little more than $8 an hour working at Burger King.

"It's getting to the point where, in my household", Andera said, "we have to have two jobs a piece just to survive comfortably."

She lives with two others, but said they're behind on some monthly bills. She also said that a higher wage would help her lot in life.

"It's a family effort to survive," Andera said, "especially with how much you're getting paid for, and it's not enough."

The Center for People in Need has been a big proponent of increasing the minimum wage, and lawmakers are pushing a bill through now to increase the wage to $9 an hour by 2017.

As of 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said about 29,000 Nebraskans earned at or less than the minimum wage. However, this number does include those working as waiters or waitresses, where a significant portion of their income comes from tips.

But, the Center said they see families come through their doors every day living off the minimum wage. They also said it's not just teenagers working at minimum wage, calling that a common misconception.

But, some opponents of wage increases said increasing the hourly rate doesn't solve the problem long term.

Sen. Mark Christensen, of Imperial, said this hike would hurt employers too much.

"The higher you push that minimum wage," Christensen said, "the less likely someone is to hire them and train them."

Christensen said the minimum should be a training wage, allowing people to work up and earn more money in their profession. And, that if someone doesn't like their job/pay, then they have the option to look for different work.

The Center for People in Need said minimum wage should not be treated as a training wage. They also said getting another job is not always that simple.

Christensen also said increasing the minimum wage forces employers to cut back on jobs, hurting the job market.

People earning minimum wage also qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), helping to supplement their income.

The state should look at other avenues for helping those not making a lot of money, according to Christensen. For example, he recommended evaluating age laws, and perhaps loosening them. Even with restricted or fewer hours, Christensen believes allowing teenagers to work at younger ages helps them get the training they need. He said waiting until they're 16 (or older) puts people at risk of being less likely to work and more likely to take part in extra-curricular activities.

The bill was scheduled to go to the floor Tuesday, but was pushed back. Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, of Omaha, said in a text message Tuesday night that the bill may be on the floor Wednesday afternoon. But, he said there are other bills ahead of the wage discussion that may push it back further.