The Potluck

Hennepin County raises minimum wage to $20 an hour for its employees

By: - March 23, 2021 3:45 pm
hennepin county commissioner marion greene

Hennepin County Board Chair Marion Greene speaks at a special meeting of the board on March 17, 2020, to address COVID-19 outbreak. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

The Hennepin County Board unanimously approved raising its minimum wage on Tuesday from $15 to $20 an hour beginning March 28.

The move directly affects 480 of the county’s approximately 9,000 workers, although more workers could see their wages rise in the coming months as their pay is reevaluated against the new minimum.

Board Chair Marion Greene, who authored the proposal, said increasing the minimum wage moves the county toward greater wage equity along lines of race, gender and disability status while also putting pressure on other employers to follow suit.

“The raise for county employees will help the region make strides toward wage equity and toward an economy where upward mobility is possible,” Greene said.

Black and Indigenous employees along with other workers of color, women and disabled workers will benefit the most from the increase, since they are more likely to be employed in entry-level and lower-paid positions.

“I cannot sing enough praises for the fact that we are increasing the minimum wage,” said Commission Angela Conley. “This sends a message to our employers throughout the region that our residents deserve to live in a way that they can pay bills and pay daycare and pay other expenses.”

When it goes into effect on Sunday, Hennepin County’s minimum wage will be the highest of any government entity in the state, edging out the White Earth Nation which will hold the title for one day. The tribe recently approved raising its minimum wage to $16 an hour beginning on Saturday.

The increase follows a trend across the state and country of increasing wages at the lowest-end of the pay scale, driven by political pressure, competition for workers and generous unemployment benefits as part of the federal government’s COVID-19 response.

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The measure approved on Tuesday also directs the county’s chief human resources officer to review the minimum hourly wage each week and increase it “when employment market data and other economic conditions warrant.” Historically, the county’s minimum wage has been increased by a board vote. Board members raised the wage floor to $15 an hour five years ago.

Though the vote was unanimous, some commissioners said they were asked by constituents to vote against the wage increase.

“I’ve gotten a lot of emails actually saying that we don’t want to see our tax dollars going to $20 an hour. I’m not so sure that those constituents necessarily know what it takes to really live,” said Commissioner Debbie Goettel.

A single person without children living in Hennepin County needs to earn $15.87 an hour to afford the basic cost of living, according to the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development. But for a single person with one child, the necessary wage is $30.61.

Commissioners argued the wage hike will allow more workers to afford the cost of living without needing to use government services like food stamps.

“We as the county do not believe that our own workers should be living in poverty or should be receiving assistance,” said Commissioner Irene Fernando.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.

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