Could you buy your groceries on just $42 per week?

Last week was 2014’s National Week of Action, or Economic Security Week, organized by the Progressive States Network.

During this week, legislators across the nation participated in events and activities that lift up a shared progressive vision for economic security in America. In our state, Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, representing Wayne County, were two of the legislators who stepped up to take the minimum wage grocery challenge, purchasing their groceries on just $42.

While this may have been a project for our state legislators, it is a way of life for many Michiganders. With the state’s minimum wage set at $7.40, many people are unable to make ends meet and provide the very most basic of needs for their families, such as food and housing. In fact, according to the Making Ends Meet report released last month, in Wayne county, a single adult must make $11.64 per hour in order to meet their most basic needs, and that is without any dependents to care for.

The Michigan League for Public Policy participated in an event held to raise awareness of the economic insecurity throughout our state on Tuesday, April 8 – Equal Pay Day. I was able to join with state Sens. Virgil Smith and Hoon-Yung Hopgood, as well as Mothering Justice and minimum wage mothers, to call attention to the fact that regardless of what county in Michigan you reside in, there is not a single county where a family of any type can support themselves on minimum wage alone.

This is especially significant as a female earner, who on average earns $0.74 for every dollar a man earns ($0.67 for African American women and $0.54 for Hispanic women), as highlighted in a new fact sheet on Pay Equity.

It has become clear that our current minimum wage is not enough and we must act to do more to raise our families out of poverty.

To learn more about efforts to raise the minimum wage in Michigan, visit Raise Michigan.

Shannon Nobles 


What’s your agenda for Michigan?

Consider this: This November, voters will elect a governor, all 38 state senators and all 110 state representatives.

Clearly, it’s an important year for our state’s future. The Center for Michigan, described by founder Phil Power as a nonpartisan “think and do tank,” wants your input. What issues do you want elected officials to address on the campaign trail – and in the state Capitol once they are elected?

The League is hosting a Community Conversation, one of many held around the state, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Monday at the Greater Lansing Housing Coalition, 600 W. Maple St. Lansing.

The Center for Michigan is gathering opinions to summarize and share with policymakers. Topics include the size of government, taxes, investing in roads and bridges, the minimum wage, and education and job training. What services should be increased? Decreased? If you were to increase taxes, which ones would you choose? If you were to decrease taxes, which ones would you choose?

It’s an important opportunity to speak up and make sure your priorities are part of the mix.

There are still a few seats available for the Monday conversation. Please join us to make your voice heard. RSVP to by noon Monday.

For more information on community conversations, go to

– Judy Putnam

Raise Michigan raises hope

The possibility of a long-overdue increase to Michigan’s minimum wage is on the horizon with the kickoff of the Raise Michigan campaign to put the issue before voters on the fall ballot.

If successful, it will raise Michigan’s $7.40 an hour wage minimum wage to $10.10 over three years and index it to inflation. It also includes a gradual increase of the $2.65/hour “tipped” wage for restaurant servers.

With so many problems to report on – rising income inequality, growing number of low-income working moms and shrinking windows of opportunity for our young people – it’s good to be able to talk about a positive solution.

Raising the wage would reduce the state’s poverty rate, decrease reliance on state assistance and boost local economies.

An increase would boost the incomes of nearly 1 million Michigan workers. Despite oft-repeated statements from opponents to the contrary, only 13% of that group are teens. Most are 20 and over and many are parents. In fact, 15% of all children in the state have a parent earning the minimum wage.

The proposal will index it to inflation. Without indexing, the minimum wage loses purchasing power over time. Since 1968, the minimum wage has lost more than 30% of its value, despite a few increases along the way.

Make sure to stay informed on this important development. There’s much work ahead – the campaign has until May 28 to collect nearly 259,000 valid signatures and there will be many volunteer opportunities. Make sure to connect at

– Gilda Z. Jacobs

League vs. Mackinac Center on the minimum wage

Recently, I’ve had two opportunities to debate the Mackinac Center on the minimum wage. The events took place at the Hauenstein Center of Grand Valley State University and on a public affairs show on WGVU, the public station at Grand Valley.

The minimum wage has been on the minds of many lately – particularly after fast-food workers held rallies and called for an increase to $15 per hour, and a ballot campaign formally launched last month.

On one side of the debate are those who understand that $7.40 is too low – at this wage, full-time work is just $15,400 annually. On the other side are those who are opposed to increasing or even having a minimum wage at all.

During the debates, I argued in favor of raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation – a measure that would benefit 1 million Michigan workers. My debate opponent proposed abolishing the minimum wage.

The debates touched on several points, including:

  • Are minimum wage earners teens or adults? Opponents of the minimum wage argue that this wage is mostly earned by teenagers, and therefore not a pressing policy issue. However, evidence suggests the contrary. In Michigan, 87% of workers who earn at, or just above the minimum wage, are at least 20 years old.  (Nationally, their average age is 35). Further, 20% of these workers are parents raising 15% of Michigan’s children. The changing demographics of low-wage workers suggest that this is an economic issue that we must confront now, so we’re not asking low-wage adults to live in poverty, or parents to turn to public assistance to support their children.
  •  Would an increase hurt jobs and the economy? My debate opponent referred to studies claiming that job losses are an inevitable result of raising the wage floor. However, more recent studies show that neither job losses nor gains should be expected in significant numbers. Nonetheless, if Michigan increased its minimum wage to $10.10, the state could see a small boost in employment – 3,300 full-time jobs – and an increase in economic activity – $886 million. These modest improvements make sense when we consider that, when low-wage workers have a little more money in their pockets, they tend to spend it right away (mostly at local businesses) to purchase basic necessities. Over time, increased spending leads to a higher demand for workers to staff local businesses or create more of the products being consumed.
  •  Would increasing the minimum wage hurt small businesses? My opponent argued that Walmart supports an increase because this would eliminate its small business competitors. While it is true that nearly a decade ago, Walmart “urged” Congress to increase the minimum wage, it did so while hiring anti-minimum wage lobbyists. My opponent also failed to mention that, rather than being concerned, small business owners support an increase and many already pay their employees a wage higher than the minimum.

We need an economy that works for everyone, including our lowest-paid workers. Increasing the minimum wage, so that hard work is fairly compensated, is a first step to building such a fair economy. For more information, see the League’s fact sheet and report on raising the minimum wage.

– Yannet Lathrop

Minimum wage — not just your summer job

Long gone are the days when minimum-wage jobs, such as those in food service, were the province of suburban teenagers starting their working lives. A great majority (85%) of low-wage workers in Michigan are at least 20 years old, and 82% have a high school degree or higher. Nearly a quarter of them are also parents supporting children according to a report by the Michigan League for Public Policy.

These facts suggest a reconsideration of the minimum wage, not as pocket change for teenagers, but as wages for adults who are responsible for themselves, and perhaps for young children. (more…)

How do we increase family economic security? We increase the minimum wage!

As they do every year, the Economic Policy Institute recently released their 2013 Family Budget Calculator. Unlike other measurements of economic security, such as the Federal Poverty Line, this calculator goes beyond giving us a rough idea of the income levels that separate abject poverty from modest poverty or moderate incomes.

Rather, the EPI calculator suggests the minimum income needed for a family to raise children in an economically secure environment.

Using EPI’s Family Budget Calculator, we estimate that a one-parent, one-child family living in Detroit would need an annual income of $49,356, or an hourly wage of $23.73, to live modestly but economically secure. In rural Michigan, this same family would need an annual income of $44,790, or an hourly wage of $21.53.

A Detroit household consisting of two parents and two children would need an annual income of $66,896 to be economically secure. If both parents worked full-time, an hourly wage of $16.08 would allow them to earn this modest annual income. If this same family lived in rural Michigan, their annual income would need to reach at least $62,058, and the parents’ hourly wage would need to be at least $14.92. (more…)

Minimum wage update needed

President Obama called for a raise in the minimum wage to $9 an hour with an inflation adjustment in the future in his State of the Union address Tuesday.

Michigan’s minimum wage is at $7.40 an hour with no planned increases or inflationary adjustments. At that rate, a full-time worker cannot lift a family of four out of poverty (less than $23,000 a year for a family of four). In fact, the family is $7,400 a year short of the poverty level, according to the most recent Kids Count in Michigan report. And if both parents of two children work full time at minimum wage, my colleague Peter Ruark calculates that the family is still low income – about 130 percent of poverty. (more…)

It’s that time again — raise the minimum wage!

The federal minimum wage would rise to $9.80 by July 2014 under bills introduced by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-CA. The Economic Policy Institute today released a report showing that the minimum wage affects far more than teen workers in Michigan.

Among the findings:

  • 44% of those who would directly and indirectly benefit from the proposed increase work full time.
  • Parents make up 27% of those affected, and 26% of those parents are the sole providers of income for their families.
  • 86% are 20 years old or older, putting to rest the often-heard claim that minimum wage increases benefit primarily teenagers. (more…)

How much do you need to earn to make it?

Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) held their first annual national partner summit last week in Washington D.C. As a partner, the League was invited to participate and I was able to attend.

The event brought together 44 partners representing 38 statewide organizations advocating for women and girls. One of the highlights was the release of the Basic Economic Securities Table Initiative (BEST report), a measure for economic self-sufficiency.

The report serves as a benchmark on what individuals and families need to earn to not merely survive but to reach and maintain economic stability. According to the BEST report, most low-wage jobs fail to help families meet basic needs including housing, food, utilities, transportation, and child care.

The unemployment rate may be dropping, but working families in Michigan still can’t make ends meet with the job opportunities scantily provided. The report goes beyond basic self-sufficiency to indicate how much a family needs to earn and save in order to begin to accumulate assets. Reaching economic self-sufficiency is what families need to make ends meet but accumulating assets is how families get ahead.

The BEST report states that a single parent with two young children needs to earn an annual income of $57,756, or just over $27 an hour, to meet basic needs and save, and a family with two working parents and two young children needs to earn $67,920 a year, or about $16 an hour per worker.

Michigan’s overall poverty rate in 2009 was at 16.2 percent, with 11.6 percent of families and 22.1 percent of children living in poverty. That means that a family of four living below the poverty line (earning about $22,000 a year or less) earns less than a third of what they need to be economically self-sufficient.

With a minimum wage of $7.40 an hour, new proposed limits to the Family Independence Program (cash assistance), and an upcoming six-week reduction in state-paid unemployment benefits, we are making it harder for families to reach economic stability. By providing a safety net and living wage jobs, we give families the ability to invest back into the local economy and their future.

After being saturated with the news of impending budget cuts across the safety net, WOW partners left the summit with a new tool and with that came some hope. The BEST report provides a benchmark for economic stability and a guide for policymakers to ensure a future of economic viability and prosperity for the state’s most vulnerable families and children. The message is simple: We need to not only provide jobs, we need to provide jobs that provide economic self-sufficiency.

– Anika Fassia