Speaking to the people gathered at “Raise the Wage; a public forum on raising the wage for workers,” Stoops said many democrats are focusing on wage discrepancies in Senate legislation, although few proposed solutions have passed.
The event, sponsored by South Central Indiana Jobs with Justice and Bloomington Moral Mondays, was held at 7 p.m. Monday in the Bloomington City Hall Council Chamber.
“I’ve lost track of the number of times we’ve tried to get fair wage, equal wage bills passed,” Stoops said.
In general, Stoops advocated for employees to be paid enough to afford a home and transportation costs, not merely what is required for food.
“If we (the state) pick up the tab for everything else the employee needs to live on, that business is making a profit and the public is subsidizing it,” Stoops said.
Jessica Fraser, the program manager for the Indiana Institute of Working Families, said for most families, the cost of self-sufficiency is roughly twice a given location’s federal poverty guideline.
The IIWF promotes policies and legislation that will help Indiana families maintain a level of economic self-sufficiency, meaning those people will be able to afford basic living costs at a full-time, minimum-wage job.
Poverty rates dropped slightly in 2014, though about 975,000 families were still under the mark according to the IIWF’s count, Frasier said.
“This number has been yo-yoing over the one-million mark for the last (several) years, so one year does not a trend make,” Fraser said.
The IIWF calculated the minimum wage needed for a single adult to live in each county in Indiana, Fraser said, and the lowest possible wage they came up with was $7.95 per hour.
Fraser said their calculations found the Indiana average needed for self-sufficiency was closer to $9.26 per hour.
“Hoosiers are hard workers,” Fraser said. “We work hard, and we make a profit, and we deserve a piece of that.”
Joseph Varga, a professor in the IU department of Labor Studies, advocated an activist approach to making sure that Indiana businesses are treating their workers fairly.
“(Wage inequality) is the problem of a lack of wages in the pockets of workers to consume the products that stimulate the economy,” Varga said.
He linked a lower comparative minimum wage in 2015 to technology advances, the pressures of a globalized market, and lack of worker bargaining power in the workplace due to union decline.
“(Raising the minimum wage) will affect probably some small businesses in the immediate sense, but in the long run, having more money in people’s pockets is a good thing,” Varga said.
Stoops asked attendees to talk to their legislators about fair-wage legislation. Varga suggested in addition to politics, workers look to communities for support and to keep business owners accountable.
“We need strong legislation,” Varga said. “But we also need support for workers on the ground in our communities.”