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Petition seeks to increase Nebraska minimum wage

Over 87,000 signatures needed to raise from $9 to $15 an hour by 2026
Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 10:31 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Proponents of raising the Nebraska minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026 are seeking a ballot initiative to give the voters a choice.

The Raise the Wage Nebraska Coalition is seeking more than 87,000 signatures they say are needed to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. This would allow voters to decide whether the state should increase the minimum wage from the current $9 per hour.

State senators Megan Hunt from the 8th District and Terrell McKinney from the 11th District are part of the Raise the Wage Nebraska Coalition. McKinney delivered paperwork to the Nebraska Secretary of State office on Monday to get the process rolling.

”During the pandemic over the last year, we heard so many of our neighbors saying, thank you to our essential workers, thank you to everybody who is keeping us safe or driving around or bringing us groceries,” Hunt said. “Well, now is the time to actually thank them by making sure that they have a living wage.”

Nebraskans previously voted in favor of a minimum wage increase in 2014. But some economists warn raising the minimum wage can have negative consequences.

”You know, the question I would ask is are people better off with a wage, or better off losing their job having no wage,” said Dr. Art Diamond, Economics Professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha. “Because for some people that’s gonna be the choice.”

Diamond says it’s a fundamental law of economics, the law of demand. He cites a congressional budget office study indicating a national increase to $15 dollars an hour could lead to the loss of over one million U.S. jobs.

”It’s well-intentioned, I don’t deny that,” Diamond said. “But I think oftentimes people who advocate raising the minimum wage don’t see what the implications are and the effects will be on some people.”

Hunt sees it differently.

“You know there are places all over the country, all over the world, that have been able to raise the wage for their workers and the economy didn’t collapse, the businesses didn’t all fail.”

Sen. Megan Hunt, Nebraska, District 8

“You know there are places all over the country, all over the world, that have been able to raise the wage for their workers and the economy didn’t collapse, the businesses didn’t all fail,” she said. “I will acknowledge that on the government side and the policy side that we need to do more for small businesses. We need to do more to support small businesses and not just the giant corporations who have benefited most of all from the bailouts during this pandemic.”

The Nebraska secretary of state’s office handles the approval process, which usually takes at least a month before the petitions will be available to sign. The Nebraska Appleseed website is handling signups for petition workers and other information. If the needed number of signatures are gathered and presented by a yet to be determined July deadline, the initiative would go before the voters in November 2022.

“You know, in the Midwest, we believe in hard work, we believe in working hard for what you have and we also believe in taking care of our neighbors,” Hunt said. “That’s why now is the right time to raise the wage to make sure all of our neighbors have the high quality of life that we promise here in Nebraska.”

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