MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota retail workers who make the holidays happen live in poverty, making around $9 an hour, according to the latest annual holiday shopping report issued by Minnesota 2020, a St. Paul based progressive think tank.
"This time we are urging shoppers not only to buy local but consider those stores both big and small who take care of their workers, who do right by their workers," said Joe Sheeran, communications director for Minnesota 2020. "No one who works 40 hours a week should have to live in poverty. This holiday season, shop your values."
The report, "Made in Minnesota 2013: Fair Wages Strengthen Local Economies," finds the median wage for retail workers in Minnesota is $9.05 an hour, according to recent data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).
The organization acknowledged many of the workers facing poverty must shop at big box retailers and similar stores that employ them, because they cannot afford higher prices on a tight budget.
"It's almost like a downward circle that almost becomes a race to the bottom, and that can only lead to greater economic inequality unless we put some purchasing power back in the hands of the poor," said Lee Egerstrom, Minnesota 2020 fellow and author of the report.
The organization is asking the public to rally for a $9.50 minimum wage hike, which was proposed by the Minnesota House last legislative session, and will be picked up again next year.
Minnesota's minimum wage stands at $5.25 for employees of companies that gross less than $625,000 in sales annually, and at $6.15 for employees at larger companies. Most workers in Minnesota earn the higher federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
Minnesota has long had one of the lower minimum wages in the nation but would jump to one of the highest if the legislation passes next session. Opponents argue employers won't be able to hire as many workers.
"In Minnesota, if we raise the wage to $9.50 we would have $470 million in extra purchasing power. Those people would be coming in to business on Main Street throughout this state," said Sheeran.
Ryan North, owner of Moss Envy, an eco friendly home gift store on Excelsior Boulevard in Minneapolis, pays his employees $11 an hour starting wage.
"If we all gave more, we all get more," said North. "I think I've seen the benefits of paying my employees more firsthand."
North noted his hesitation in hiring his first full time worker, worrying if he could afford her pay.
"But she brought so much to our business, she more than paid for herself," he said.
North hopes other businesses consider the benefits to paying employees more, and he says reconsider what value means this holiday season.
"It's not always about finding the lowest price," he said. "A rising tide raises all ships - so when we all come together, not just the retail community but the shopping community too."
Minnesota 2020 says customers should ask businesses what their minimum wage pay is, if they provide insurance, vacation and sick pay to employees, and if they are offered full time opportunities.
Read more on the report here.
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