Policy Matters: It’s time to rethink minimum wage

Have you ever rearranged your living room furniture? When the light touches the space in new ways, the pieces create a new refreshing ensemble. Much like reviving a dark, stale living room, it is time for Oklahoma lawmakers to shed some new light on minimum wage.

Federal lawmakers last adjusted the minimum wage in 2009, making this the longest time we’ve gone without a rate adjustment. By comparison, inflation has risen 43% during the last 14 years.

Because our state doesn’t have its own minimum wage, workers in Oklahoma rely on the federal rate. This includes the egregious subminimum wage for tipped workers, which has been frozen at a meager $2.13 since 1991.

MIT researchers calculate that a living wage for a single adult in Oklahoma is $15.49 per hour, while a single parent would need more than twice that – $32.96 per hour – to reach a living wage.

Minimum-wage workers aren’t just teenagers. Nationwide, 4 in 5 workers earning minimum wage are older than 25 years old. These are adults – including essential workers who make our communities run – who are often working multiple jobs just to put a roof over their heads and food on the table.

The pervasiveness of low wages costs our friends and neighbors dearly. We see more families in poverty – 1 in 5 Oklahoma children live in households with income below the federal poverty level. Such conditions expand the need for shared public services for folks living on the economic margins.

While these services are widely considered to be a safety net, what if we instead provided a financial trampoline to jump-start families out of poverty? Raising the minimum wage does just that.

An increased minimum wage helps community members work their way out of poverty, and it would help address long-standing racial and gender inequities. An increased minimum wage would benefit between 30% and 40% of all women (Black and Latina women especially), Black men, and Latino workers.

Right now, 30 states have minimum wages above the federal limit; it’s long past time for Oklahoma lawmakers to consider the same. And while they’re at it, they can revisit their 2014 act of big government that preempts local governments from setting their own minimum wage. Overturning this law would help return local control to our cities and county governments that recognize the long-overdue need to raise the minimum wage.

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NOTE: This column originally appeared in the Journal Record on Oct. 26, 2023


Shiloh Kantz was named OK Policy's Executive Director in October 2022 following a national search. She first joined the organization in February 2010 serving in roles that included Director of Operations and Development, Deputy Director, and Interim Executive Director. Shiloh is a Rockwood Leadership Institute 2023 National Leading from the Inside Out Fellow, a member of the State Priorities Partnership Steering Committee, and a member of VEST, an organization dedicated to creating opportunities to achieve positions of power and influence for women leaders in the workplace. Prior to joining OK Policy, she worked as a controller for an Oklahoma small business group. She is a wife, mother of three, and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.