Polk Co. Supervisor: ‘Minimum wage is applied to everybody’

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Polk County is in the middle of a national conversation about raising the minimum wage.

When Democrats controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress, they could have raised the federal minimum wage but never got to it.

Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both want to raise the wage to $15/hour.

Polk County supervisors voted this week to create a 13-member Minimum Wage Task Force. Polk County Supervisor Bob Brownell said they’re exploring a countywide minimum wage increase similar to what Johnson and Linn counties have. On Tuesday, they established a committee to explore that idea.

Brownell said that while he thinks it’s “extremely unlikely” that they’ll bump the minimum wage up to $15 an hour, Polk County is a bit of an outlier compared to other states, counties and cities that have passed a minimum wage increase higher than $7.25 an hour.

Critics say that the task force was established to stall on making a decision, but Brownell said they’re hoping the commission will have its results by the end of the summer.

While he Brownell, the former mayor of Clive, thinks $7.25 an hour is too low, it will be up to the commission to see if an increase, and how much, would affect everyone else’s wages.

“The market, for the most part, has taken care of this in Polk County or Linn County or Johnson County, which makes up a third of the state’s population. If you’re looking at the effect on businesses, it could be a lot when looking at reverberations of a higher wage,” Brownell said.

The commission will be cautious of what will do more harm than good, he said.

Brownell also said the supervisors will not be appointing any elected officials when it comes to making a decision. He said the task force will talk to citizens.

“One of my appointments is someone who actually owns and operates a restaurant in Johnston and Clive. And that’s an important sector to hear from,” Brownell said.

Polk County may take an approach like Johnson County, where cities can opt out of raising the minimum wage set by the county. Brownell said that is tricky because some Polk County cities aren’t enclosed in county borders, meaning some cities are split up into different counties.

Regardless of the task force's decision, the wage conversation is an emotional one.

Some say the minimum wage is fine the way it is because a majority of those earning it are 24-years-old or younger. They call it a “training wage.” But others argue there are many single parents who rely on minimum-wage jobs to raise their families.

“Minimum wage was never designed to be a career-type wage," Brownell said. "It has been for entry-level, unskilled, uneducated folks to come in and get some experience, and maybe move up in the ranks. It was never designed to be a career,” he said.

Minimum wage is applied to everybody -- rich and poor -- Brownell said.

Watch his full interview above.

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