Whatever happens Thursday when the Kansas City Council votes on increasing the minimum wage, the city is to be commended.
We’re more knowledgeable than when the debate began in the spring.
Flippant and dismissive attitudes are fading. People who condemn fast-food workers as not being worthy of a higher wage, as if they are lesser beings, are finding less ground to stand atop. Clergy have brought the moral argument of respect for all workers with diligent and thoughtful activism.
Equally praiseworthy have been the efforts to engage along the lines of economic theory and solid case studies, peeling emotion from the conversations.
Down the road, that may feel like small solace when the seemingly inevitable plays out and the city lands in court over the anticipated hike in the minimum.
Economists have long disagreed on what effect raising the wage will have on workers, business owners and the economy of any region. Unless a person is willfully ignorant, anyone who bothers to study the issue will soon become wrapped in its complexities.
Yet it is undeniable that wages have not kept up with the cost of living. Working hard is often not enough.
Consider pizza shop cashier Tira Wiggan. She earns $8.40. She is 24 and had been enrolled at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley. But she dropped out during a high-risk pregnancy with twins that kept her bedridden. She feels stuck.
She can’t earn enough to pay for tuition and bills while still working full time and knowing that child care will not be available or affordable during the hours that she would need it while at school. And that’s just one quandary.
This week, Wiggan spent Tuesday, her day off, in a 24-hour fast outside City Hall, part of an effort to keep the message before the council.
“I do believe that people who work 40 hours a week should not have to depend on state aid to support themselves and their children,” Wiggan said. “I work hard and as many hours as I can get.”
The council is expected to raise the minimum wage from $7.65 to $13, in gradual steps with provisions to protect smaller businesses. Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a bill that would have made such a local move a violation of state law. And there is the matter of enforcement by the municipal court, also ripe for legal interpretation.
The council took on a major societal issue by facing down stagnant minimum wages. But shifts like this don’t come readily without pushback and honest debate by all involved. And that is exactly what Kansas City has seen happen.
A rally and prayer vigil for a living wage is being organized by Communities Creating Opportunity at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415 W 13th St. in Kansas City.