Living below a ‘living wage’

   < < Go Back
from MSNBC,

”It was supposed to be a month,” Jeavene Running Shield says. But it’s now been three years since the six of them moved into this cramped motel room: Jeavene, her husband, the three grandchildren, and their daughter Betsy, who’s sleeping on the blankets spread over the floor after her 13-hour shift at Taco John’s.

Cereal boxes, trail mix and salad dressing crowd the single table where they prepare their meals, since there’s no kitchen in their makeshift home.

If Betsy got a raise, “we’d be able to get a place,” says Running Shield, 53, who was recently laid off from her housekeeping job at a local hotel. That’s one reason why she’s planning to vote for the minimum wage increase that’s on the ballot this year in South Dakota. A minimum wage hike could boost her future income, too: While her most recent job paid $9.46 an hour, her previous housekeeping job paid just $8.00 an hour — $0.50 below the newly proposed minimum in South Dakota.

Despite President Obama’s record-low approval ratings, a minimum wage hike — one of his party’s biggest priorities — could move forward in a handful of red states across the country. Besides South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas and Alaska have ballot initiatives that will allow voters to decide in November whether to increase the statewide minimum wage. A blue state, Illinois, has a non-binding vote as well.

All the proposed increases would be more modest than the $10.10 federal minimum that Obama and national Democrats have proposed. But unlike the federal wage hike, which Republicans have steadfastly blocked in Congress, the state-level hikes actually have a chance of passing this year.

“Minimum wage increases have been popular with voters across the country — every state-level measure in the 21st century has passed — and opinion polls suggest that this year’s measures are headed to passage as well,” says John Matsusaka, executive director of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.

Even in a state like South Dakota — which hasn’t supported a Democrat for president since 1964 — the proposed wage increase from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour has consistently polled better than any major statewide candidate, Republican or Democrat. Under the initiative, tipped workers like waitresses would also see their hourly minimum rise from $2.13 to $4.25, and all the new wages would also be indexed to inflation going forward.

Two consecutive polls from SurveyUSA have shown the ballot initiative with 61% support in South Dakota. As elsewhere, opponents of the measure say that it would kill low-wage jobs. But with an unemployment rate at 3.4%, compared to 5.9% nationally, the pressure for more jobs isn’t nearly as urgent; South Dakota is working harder to fill empty slots than to create new ones.

More From MSNBC: