Determining a fair minimum wage can be viewed as a matter of economic policy or as an issue of social justice.
Whatever your perspective, the $7.70 minimum in Missouri is too low.
So it is incumbent upon voters to say yes Tuesday to raising Kansas City’s minimum wage to $10 per hour initially and eventually to $15 by 2022.
An initiative petition put Question 3 on Tuesday’s ballot. But in the intervening months, the Missouri legislature has interfered, passing a law in the final hours of the regular session to block cities from raising their minimum wage above the state limit. That law goes into effect Aug. 28.
The General Assembly’s decision to overrule local control on this issue could negate whatever voters decide.
Don’t be deterred, though. This is more than just a symbolic effort. Legal battles will inevitably follow Tuesday’s minimum wage vote. Backers of Question 3 are investigating their options for challenging the state law.
And support from Kansas City voters for a higher wage could also help build momentum for statewide efforts to raise pay, a debate that will continue in Jefferson City.
Regardless of how the legal and legislative fights play out, the efforts to press for passage have not been wasted.
The conversation surrounding the minimum wage ballot proposal has been constructive, dispelling many myths. People who work for minimum wage are not primarily teenagers with after-school jobs. More often, they are adults supporting families.
Neither Missouri’s nor the federal minimum wage of $7.25 has kept up with inflation. But businesses have grown accustomed to building low wages into their cost structures. Many employers could not manage a hefty increase all at once. That’s one reason the Kansas City Council’s decision in March to raise the local minimum to $8.50 by mid-September made sense. That vote, along with St. Louis’ efforts to raise the minimum wage in that city, are also rendered moot by the legislature’s move.
Still, support in Missouri cities is building for a more livable wage as the economic and social impacts of forcing full-time workers to live in poverty become apparent. These discussions will not end with Tuesday’s vote. Not in Kansas City or across the country.
Locally, clergy and social justice groups have worked tirelessly to educate people about the dignity of work and the importance of a living wage. Their motivation is partly spiritual, grounded in knowledge of other civil rights victories that took decades to accomplish. Win or lose, this is a fight they will not abandon.
Send an important message and play a role in that battle by voting yes on Question 3.