Minimum Wage Debate Heats Up in Nebraska


A job creator or a job killer? A ballot initiative puts the focus on the minimum wage in Nebraska, with a call to raise it to $9 an hour.

Help wanted signs are common across central Nebraska, where we enjoy low unemployment. Depending who you believe, raising the minimum wage will either boost jobs or force employers to cut staff.

Platte Institute CEO Jim Vokal said, "Those people that we're trying to help get their first job will be most at risk if we raise the minimum wage."

But State Sen. Danielle Conrad points to a recent study that shows states that have raised the minimum wage lead the country in job growth.

"That speaks volumes for the fact this doesn't create job loss but rather there's a strong business case to be made for increasing the minimum wage," she said.

Jim Vokal heads the Platte Institute, founded by Republican gubernatorial candidate Pete Ricketts. Both Ricketts and the think tank oppose efforts to raise the minimum wage.

Vokal said, "Increasing the minimum wage while it sounds good on the surface is going to have unintended consequences that will affect quality of life we currently experience in Nebraska."

Consequences like higher unemployment for the youngest workers, something the Platte Institute says has happened in other states. Vokal says employers have to make up the cost somehow.

"The other option is they have to raise their prices, and that becomes regressive especially for lower income families across Nebraska," he said.

But those seeking to put the issue on the ballot say increasing to $9 over two years is fair.

Conrad said, "The minimum wage has not even kept pace with inflation. If it had, it would be $10.56 but it's stuck at $7.25."

The legislature attempted an increase, but fell a few votes short. Proponents have moved on to Plan B, this ballot initiative currently generating what Conrad calls robust debate.

She said, "When it comes to politics, not everyone thinks alike. It's good to have these discussions, and good to let the people weigh in on what they'd like to see for our economy."

They need about 80,000 signatures and turned in more than 130,000 which now must be verified.