Milwaukee County needs a living wage ordinance

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Public money should not be used to help companies with government contracts keep people in poverty.

It’s just that simple.

That is why I have introduced a “living wage” resolution to the Milwaukee County Board to ensure that scarce public dollars will no longer subsidize the profits of employers who pay poverty-level wages to their employees.

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All work has dignity, whether it involves mopping the floors of the Milwaukee County Courthouse or running a bank. But dignity alone does not pay the bills of those who are at or below the poverty line even though they work full-time. To pay a wage for full-time work that is less than the poverty line as determined by the U.S. government is immoral, but it also has societal costs.

When profitable companies pay their employees so little that they can barely afford to house, clothe and feed their children, the employees are often forced to turn to public assistance programs to fill the income gap. Public assistance – tax money – makes up for what the employer will not pay employees. Public assistance to employees working full-time at poverty level is, in effect, a subsidy from the government, benefiting companies that don’t support their employees.

Milwaukee County’s direct employees and contracted employees are hard-working people. What kind of Milwaukee do we have when those who are working for the public can’t make it out of poverty? A thriving middle class cannot exist without good-paying jobs that enable people to invest in their own lives, their families and the local economy.

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Accountability starts by setting an example, and Milwaukee County has an opportunity to set that example as members of the County Board join me in sponsoring a Living Wage Ordinance for contracted County service workers. Living wage policies have already been adopted by 140 governments, including the City of Milwaukee, the City of Madison and Dane County in Wisconsin. Clearly, these polices have not forced companies to close their doors or kept them from doing business there.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., seeing the importance of helping those on the bottom earn their fair share, joined sanitation workers who were on strike for better working conditions and economic equality in Memphis, Tenn., a day before he was killed. His example is one we must follow.

We must not sit idle while human suffering caused by poverty runs rampant in our community. Milwaukee County has an obligation to spend its money with companies that invest in their community by investing in their workers. I encourage the County Executive, members of the business community and all citizens to adopt a living wage ordinance.

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David Bowen is a Milwaukee County Supervisor.

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