The Missouri Influencer Series

In their own words: Missouri leaders split on raising minimum wage

In Kansas City, it takes $11.05 to get by on a “living wage” and afford basic necessities, according to calculations by Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In Kansas City, it takes $11.05 to get by on a “living wage” and afford basic necessities, according to calculations by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. File

More from the series

Missouri Influencer Series

Expand All

Activists in Kansas City have sought to raise the minimum wage as high as $15 an hour, but a state law preempts cities from setting local minimum wages. Now, a coalition is working to raise the statewide minimum wage to $12 per hour.

In Kansas City, it takes $11.05 to get by on a “living wage” and afford basic necessities, according to calculations by Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Our readers wanted to know: How much does a Missourian need to live comfortably and what would it take to get wages across the state to that level?

Michael Barrett, Missouri State Public Defender director

When someone works a 40-hour week but also qualifies for assistance, that’s a fairly good indicator that the minimum wage is too low. 

I’m not an economist and so I won’t pretend to know the precise number, but I know this: lower-class and middle-class wages go right back into the local economy, and so it is actually in the interest of small and mid-sized business to raise wages without a government mandate. Plus, you’ll get a more loyal workforce when they only have the one job.

Mark Bedell, superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools

The key to ensuring economic security for all residents is making sure they get a great education that prepares them to succeed in the global economy. We know that our public schools are working hard to make that happen and we need all the support possible from all sectors of the community.

Brenda Bethman, director of UMKC Women’s Center

The living wage calculator estimates $10.76/hour for one adult; $23.45 for one adult with one child; $26.96 for one adult with 2 children; $33.97 for one adult with 3 children, etc.

Missouri’s minimum wage is $7.85/hour. It will take political will to get wages to that level — and for politicians to stop being influenced by lobbyists.

Jean Paul Bradshaw, lawyer and former U.S. Attorney

I have no idea what the ‘comfortably’ means in this context. I believe the best way to improve wages is to have lower unemployment, thereby making it necessary to for employers to pay more to get employees. Improving the skills of the workforce and having jobs requiring skilled labor would help as well. I do not think that raising the minimum wage helps. This will cause businesses to find ways to eliminate — through automation or otherwise — the entry-level jobs that give so many the needed experience to move to better jobs.

Mark S. Bryant, lawyer and former Kansas City Council member

Frankly, a $15-an-hour minimum wage is barely enough to subsist.

To live comfortably a Missouri resident needs upward of $20 an hour. Wages will never rise dramatically unless we as a nation abandon the belief that 1 percent of the workforce should enjoy great wealth while 99 percent toil for their benefit.

I acknowledge that innovation, knowledge and experience must be rewarded, but that doesn’t require 5,000 fold.

Thomas Curran, SJ, president of Rockhurst University

In order for a Missourian to live comfortably, we need to be pursuing a living wage. This threshold is greater than the minimum wage.

A minimum wage is set by a legal authority whereas the living wage is set or linked to the federal poverty level. A living wage provides the wage earner with sufficient funds to afford the necessities and comforts essential to an acceptable standard of living. In essence, it’s a wage whereby the laborer can afford food, shelter, and the other necessities of life.

This is the threshold for promoting and preserving the human dignity that all Missourians should expect.

Reza Derakshani, EyeVerify developer

In my (non-expert) opinion, $10-$12/hour seems to be the right ballpark for the minimum wage, but phased in according to a schedule that allows businesses to prepare for the change. 

First, lifting Missourian workers out of poverty is the right thing to do. Furthermore, we need to reward work and workers. If we don’t require a fair living wage, we’ll have to make up the difference in form of governmental assistance and shift the burden to other taxpayers.

Jane Dueker, lawyer, radio host and former political adviser

“Living comfortably” is a very subjective term and does not accurately reflect what the debate should be on raising the minimum wage.

Living wage is likely different than living comfortably.

Economists are the experts on what wage is a living wage for a Missourian, whether they are a head of household, high-schooler, etc. What the absolute wage is needs to be balanced with what the economy will bear, whether it is equally applied statewide and what exemptions would apply and what politically can get accomplished.

While I think that the wage increases provided for in Prop B on the ballot in November may not be an absolutely sufficient living wage, the proposal is a very good indicator of the balance of all of these concerns. I think Prop B has a very good chance of passing. Missourians have been very receptive to approving reasonable increases in the minimum wage.

Patrick “Duke” Dujakovich, president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO

There are so many variables including family size, obligations and personal definition of comfortable. That makes this a tough question.

For a Missourian to live comfortably, it would take at least $18/hour full-time with benefits. I would hope that would provide some level of security and optimism for the future.

As important as the amount is the availability of full-time employment and benefits. The number increases with a shift of the cost from employers to employees.

John Fierro, Kansas City Public Schools board member

Life on $7.85 (Missouri minimum wage) an hour is tough. I estimate that after taxes, an individual takes home less than $300 each week. After rent, bills, food and other expenses, one is left with just $100 for things like gas and medicine.

I support a $15 minimum wage. This would make a huge impact on individuals and families, and people could not only pay their bills but save for unexpected expenses like car repairs, buy into health insurance, and go back to school to better themselves.

We have a choice: continue to make meager increases to the minimum wage and hold hard-working people back and make them struggle, or raise the minimum wage to a value that allows individuals to partake in the American dream of owning a home, sending their kids to college and contributing to our “supply and demand economy.”

A $15 minimum wage has the potential to adversely affect some small businesses; but working toward a possible solution such as tax credits to offset the wages they pay their employees would help both local businesses and their valued employees.

Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City

I believe the minimum wage in Missouri should be a “livable” wage of $12 to $15 per hour, which equates to $1,920 to $2,400 gross monthly income. 

Missourians need to vote yes on Proposition B on November 6. Missouri Proposition B legislates incremental increases in the state minimum wage from the current $7.85 per hour to $12 per hour in 2023. Passing this initiative will send a strong message to the Missouri Legislature that it was not acting in the best interest of the electorate when it passed House Bill 1194, which prohibits local governments from setting minimum wages higher than the statewide minimum wage. 

Proponents of increasing the minimum wage must continue to fight for changes in Missouri’s law. Passing Proposition B is a much needed step in the right direction.

Jason Grill, media, public affairs and crisis communications consultant

This is a tough question to answer in a definitive black-and-white manner because this is different for each individual based on situation, experience and the city they reside. However, I will say that in general, wages in the state of Missouri need to increase as they have lagged behind other states in recent years. Missouri must remain competitive and be a state where all people can prosper.

John Hancock, consultant and former chair of the Missouri Republican Party

“Living comfortably” is not the appropriate standard for which the private sector determines compensation.

Wages should be awarded based on the value of the employee’s contribution to the success of the business and are also a function of supply and demand. Valuable employees who are an asset to a business will always receive compensation necessary to “live comfortably.”

Raising the minimum wage will help some but will also displace many first-time workers from an opportunity to gain valuable job experience.

Heather Hall, Kansas City Council member

First we must define and speak clearly on the difference between minimum and living wage. Many groups interchange these words inappropriately.

James Harris, political strategist

Often when discussing wages, people do not separate part-time, entry-level jobs from full-time, career positions. Entry-level positions are meant to prepare a young person for the workforce, or serve as supplemental income for those who cannot find or sustain a family-supporting position. They are not intended to be a full-time career.

Government does not create jobs, and in attempting to do so can often have adverse impacts. An excessively burdensome legal or regulatory environment can stifle job creation by discouraging companies from moving jobs to Missouri. Conversely, state policies that cut red tape and promote investments in infrastructure and workforce training can help attract family-supporting jobs to Missouri.

Deb Hermann, CEO of Northland Neighborhoods Inc. and former Kansas City Council member

I don’t know that just raising wages will necessarily help people live more comfortably. I am supportive of raising wages as part of a more compressive economic program.

Dr. Vernon Percy Howard, Jr., pastor and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City

We choose to frame the question in terms related to human rights and human dignity.

The question, we believe, is not one of comfort, but of justice, fairness and common good.

There are 30 internationally sanctioned Human Rights included in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which the United States was a signatory. Today almost 200 nations are part of that body. Right 22 refers to enough money to live on.

This is why our KCMO Living Wage Ordinance, won by our 2017 Petition Initiative via our Southern Christian Leadership Conference-GKC and Coalition, is termed such.

This Human Right is closely tied to rights 29 and 30.

Right 29 refers to our “duty to other people,” which includes the most vulnerable and oppressed in our inept markets and systems, not just the wealthy who are so often the measuring stick by which the success of the economy and markets are measured.

Right 30 refers to the defense of the human rights themselves, which dictates that “no one can take those rights away.”

Yet, they are taken away because many who take the personal responsibility to work for a living do not receive a living wage. So the question, what is a living wage?

To possess the capacity to pay obligations associated with shelter upkeep and quality, to provide quality health care, to afford higher education, and to save for the future and the posterity of offspring.

Depending upon region, this could fluctuate. Yet, a just figure for our Midwest purposes, according to some economists, would mean around $40,000. How do we get there?

Those engaged in public discourse and public policy must accept and embrace the moral critique of the faith community on this subject as valid and allow it to impact policy.

Secondly, that policy must include a strategic plan involving labor, corporate stakeholders, elected officials, economists, civic leaders and faith-based leaders toward a guaranteed annual income for all workers shifting away from the “minimum wage” vernacular and strictures that oppress poor people and working citizens.

Thirdly, a vanguard movement must continue to emerge that that champions this ethic and these policy priorities as exemplified in our local Living Wage Victory.

Fourthly, America must take seriously the human rights afforded to all, particularly within the context of the significant and matchless contribution of labor.

Patrick Ishmael, director of government accountability for The Show-Me Institute

There isn’t a single “level” for living comfortably statewide. Aside from that point, the Show-Me Institute just released a study on the potential impacts of the proposed $12 minimum wage in Missouri.

Gregg Keller, principal of Atlas Strategy Group

I wouldn’t deign to pretend to know how much each Missourian needs to make in order to fill their living expenses. I do know that when government tries to force a minimum wage upon workers and their employers, the effects are in contravention to the goal.

One needs only look to Washington State, the most recent liberal state to force a $15 minimum wage on employers. What happened in the fast-food industry in that state, as a result of that policy?

Fast-food giants did exactly what they said they’d do and what any responsible business owner would have done in the same situation: They hastened the adoption of automated registers and ended thousands of jobs.

Unfortunately, the Democrat Party uses the minimum wage for strictly political purposes and doesn’t care that such it hurts the most vulnerable among us.

Crosby Kemper III, director of the Kansas City Public Library, co-founder of the Show-Me Institute

There is no one answer to this question. Cost of living, taxes, work requirements and family situation are highly variable. Improving the business climate for higher wage occupations — Missouri is 48th or 49th in GDP growth over the last 20 years — is key but also complicated by taxes, regulation, education, crime etc. Simple solutions won’t work

Jennifer Lowry, chief toxicologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital

I do not know what the living wage is for Missouri. One site lists the living wage for one adult is $10.76 with an increase to $23.45 if there is one additional child. As the minimum wage in Mo. (state) is $7.85, many that have this for their wage are just above the poverty line if it is only the one adult. Having a child puts them at the level of poverty.

To put this in perspective, over the last three years, the state has averaged 16.8 percent food insecurity and 7.9 percent very low food security. 2015 estimates for food insecurity suggest that close to 400,000 households experience food insecurity.

Given Missouri’s average household size of 2.45 persons, this translates into roughly 980,000 Missourians experiencing food insecurity at some point during the year. Of these households, nearly half experience very low food security, or hunger. Almost half a million Missourians experience hunger at some point over the calendar year (

This begins a vicious cycle in that hungry adults may lose their jobs because of weakness resulting in higher demands for public benefits and social services and increased health care spending. Hungry kids results in school absenteeism, poor school performance, poor job outlook and continuing the cycle.

If we were to pay a living wage to families, the payback to communities would surpass the spending to make it happen.

What would it take to get wages to that level? That is tough to answer. Small business owners may not be able to pay the increased wage. The increase in wage would be passed to the customer to make up the difference so that employees would still be paid.

What would it take? It would take the public willing to pay more to feed families.

Quinton Lucas, Kansas City Council member

At least $40,000 per year, which not enough make.

Dianne Lynch, president of Stephens College

At Stephens College, we have a $10-an-hour minimum wage, with a goal of $13-an-hour — perhaps not quite comfortable, but at least enough to pay the bills. And that’s what it takes: Employers willing to invest in the workers who make their success possible.

John F. Murphy, Shook, Hardy & Bacon and co-chair of KC Rising

Currently, the Federal Poverty Level for a single person is $12,140 while a family of four with two children is $25,100. However, research suggests that, on average, an income equal to about two times the federal poverty threshold is needed to meet their most basic needs — $24,280 for a single person and $50,200 for a family of four.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has a Family Budget Calculator that allows one to see how much it costs to live in cities or metro areas based on housing, child care, transportation, health care, other necessities and taxes.

The Family Budget Calculator measures the income a family needs in order to attain a modest yet adequate standard of living. The budgets look at community-specific costs for 10 family types (one or two adults with zero to four children) in all counties and metro areas in the United States.

Compared with the federal poverty line and the Supplemental Poverty Measure, EPI’s family budgets provide a more accurate and complete measure of economic security in America.

The EPI suggests it costs $34,110 annually for a single person, $49,621 for a single parent with one child and $73,042 for a family of four to live an adequate standard of living in Missouri.

It would take one full-time job paying $16.40/hour to make $34,110, one full-time job paying $23.86/hour to make $49,621 and two full-time jobs paying $17.56/hour each to make $73,042.

In Missouri, the minimum wage is $7.85/hour — earning $16,328 annually if working 40 hours per week. Thus, there remains a significant gap between the current minimum wage and a wage that would be needed to provide a comfortable standard of living.

It would be difficult to close that gap immediately through any type of legislative action but we should certainly takes steps to legislatively increase the minimum wage incrementally over a period of years. Also, we should be proactive in attempting to create job opportunities that pay higher wages.

One focus of the KC Rising initiative, aimed at creating a sustainable 20-year-plus vision to accelerate the Kansas City region’s economic growth, is to increase the number of quality jobs in the region.

Quality jobs are defined as those in occupations that require at least a postsecondary degree or certification or pay more than the U.S. median earnings of $21.05 an hour, or $43,784 per year. Changes in median household income typically represent what is happening to the standard of living of the middle class.

The overarching KC Rising goals are not targeted at growth of minimum wage jobs, but putting more people into the Quality Job category through economic growth and inclusive opportunities for all. Inclusive opportunities include:

KC Degrees provides access to adults who aspire to complete a college degree by engaging various parts of the community to align resources, remove barriers and create new pathways.

Scholars is designed to increase the number of post-secondary degrees in the greater KC metro by providing scholarships and college completion support to traditional students and adult learners. In addition, it supports college savings starting at 9th grade.

Gateways KC supports the integration of new American citizens into the regional workforce creating an understanding of the economic value of immigrants, and ensuring employers are welcoming and culturally competent. In particular, the program is focused on the attraction of foreign students, particularly in hard-to-fill STEM areas, and keep them in the region after graduation.

Gradforce KC supports postsecondary education that prepares graduates for jobs in high-demand fields by bringing businesses and educational institutions together. In partnership with the Lumina Foundation, the KC region offers technical and planning assistance, data tools, flexible funding and the ability to customize degree plans that will best suit our community’s needs.

Ken Novak, UMKC professor of criminal justice and criminology

“Live comfortably” is very subjective, and varies by place. I’ll leave it to economists to determine exactly what that magic number should be.

But in the end, minimum wage should translate to livable wage — too often Missourians work full time and are still considered to be living in poverty. This impacts children disproportionately — nearly 20 percent of children live below the poverty line.

Poverty is even more devastating in rural environments. Nothing is more undignified than working full time yet still being unable to crawl out of poverty. Whatever the minimum wage is, people should be able to live on those wages.

Leland Shurin, lawyer and chairman of the Kansas City Police Board

The 2017 poverty line for a family of 4 was $24,600. That’s $12.30 per hour for a single breadwinner for that family working 2,000 annual hours.

To live comfortably is another question.

Dr. Amy Glasmeier of MIT has calculated in the “Living Wage Calculator” that for such Missouri family (two adults, two children; one adult is the wage earner and the other is dedicated to taking care of the children) a “living wage” is $44,000 a year. I think that is probably correct to “live comfortably.”

It will not happen from legislation in the Missouri General Assembly; it will take a petition drive and public voter passage to get any real increase on the low hourly rate minimum wage now in Missouri. I suggest that members of the General Assembly be paid for their services as legislators the state hourly minimum wage.

Ryan Silvey, Missouri Public Service commissioner and former state senator

As I am not an economist, I can’t really answer that question in terms of a specific dollar amount. The question of what amount should be the minimum wage is always a political football.

What I can say, specific dollar figure aside, is that the structure of Missouri’s minimum wage statute makes sense.

Once the base wage was set, the wage has an automatic adjuster attached to it so that when CPI (Consumer Price Index) changes from year to year, the wage is automatically adjusted to match. If CPI goes up because of inflation, the wage goes up with it. This allows the wage to remain flexible and responsive, without requiring a new political debate every few years.

When looking at setting long-term policy, I prefer this data-driven approach to the soundbite driven debates we normally see.

Jeff Simon, managing partner, Husch Blackwell

There is no “one answer” to this question, as each individual’s circumstance, and definition of “living comfortably,” is different.

However, a healthy, sustainable society must provide opportunities for each of its members to pursue his or her own definition of “success.” At a minimum, this means that government and employers should collaborate to ensure that those who are willing to learn and apply skills valuable to the marketplace can at least meet basic life needs, such as affordable housing and healthcare.

Patrick Tuohey, Show-Me Institute director of municipal policy

The costs of living vary across Missouri, so the answer is dependent upon where you are. Also, “comfortably” is very subjective — as are the work-related burdens one is willing to undertake to live that way.

Scott Wagner, Kansas City mayor pro tem

As I understand it, the current living wage for Missouri has been estimated at $18/hour. As cities are preempted from adjusting the wage the state will have to take action. Since it appears they aren’t, then a voter initiative will be necessary to adjust the wage.

Pam Whiting, vice president for communications, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce

According to MIT, a single adult living in Jackson County needs to earn $22,998 before taxes; two working adults with two children need to earn $63,911 before taxes to meet essential needs like housing and transportation. One solution is to raise Missouri’s minimum wage.

Related stories from Kansas City Star