DETROIT — Democrat Mark Schauer is proposing to raise Michigan’s minimum wage to $9.25 an hour over three years and automatically tie future increases to inflation, saying he would make hiking the $7.40 wage a top priority if elected governor next year.
“We are better than having people work full time and live in poverty, especially when they’re raising kids,” he told the Associated Press on Monday.
The state’s minimum wage last went up in 2008 and is slightly higher than the $7.25 federal minimum wage.
Mr. Schauer said a $9.25 per-hour rate would give low-wage workers the same buying power as 1968, which he said is when the minimum wage had its highest purchasing power. He sought to counter expected opposition from Republicans and business leaders who say hiking the wage would cost jobs and lead to steeper prices.
“This is about simple economics,” Mr. Schauer said. “When working families have more to spend on everyday necessities like gas, groceries, and clothes for the kids, it creates demand for the economy. When demand increases, small businesses grow and hire more workers. It is also morally the right thing to do for our families.”
Mr. Schauer’s proposal is his first major policy initiative besides a September op-ed calling for changes in the charter school system. The lone Democratic gubernatorial candidate is expected to face Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who has all but officially declared his bid for re-election in November, 2014.
Mr. Snyder has not embraced separate Democratic legislation that would gradually raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2016. In response to Mr. Schauer’s proposal, Snyder spokesman Sara Wurfel stopped short of saying he opposes a minimum wage increase, but said he has said there can be unintended consequences.
“While it can raise wages, it also can lead to lost jobs,” she said. “It requires a fair amount of homework. He’s going to stay focused on creating an environment for more and better jobs.”
Mr. Schauer served in the Legislature in 2006 when a bipartisan deal was struck to raise the minimum wage in phases after Republicans decided to avoid a union-backed ballot drive that would have increased it and locked inflationary raises into the state constitution.
Mr. Schauer’s plan would boost the minimum wage from $7.40 to $8 in year one, to $8.60 the next year, and $9.25 the third year. Inflationary increases would go into effect in future years.
Mr. Schauer said 44 percent of minimum-wage earners work full time, 55 percent are women, and 85 percent are 21 or older. A person working 40 hours a week for the minimum wage, 52 weeks a year, earns roughly $15,400 a year — just under the federal poverty line for a family of two, he said.