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Letter to the editor: The facts support having a higher minimum wage

I’m responding to a recent letter by state Rep. Rick Becker that criticized my efforts to raise the federal minimum wage. That letter was offensive to the thousands of North Dakota workers who earn a minimum wage and deserve fair pay.

Like Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and the majority of Americans, I do believe it is a good idea to raise the minimum wage.

Historically, we have raised the minimum wage every few years to offset the effects of inflation. Since 1978, both Democrats and Republicans have worked to increase it 11 times. And since the last time it was raised almost five years ago, the cost of living in the U.S. — and certainly in North Dakota — has grown.

To suggest that raising the minimum wage now to $10.10 would cause great harm to our economy flies in the face of the facts. Before I voted to increase it, we received a letter from more than 600 economists, including seven Nobel laureates. It stated that through extensive study of the impacts of previous changes, “increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market.”

It was also helpful to know that a recent poll found that two-thirds of small businesses owners supported raising the minimum wage because it would give consumers more money to spend and increase sales at their businesses.

Raising the minimum wage also reduces individuals’ dependence on government assistance programs. For instance, a recent study found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would lower government spending on food stamps by $46 billion. That’s a huge cost savings.

Most importantly, though, raising the minimum wage is just the right thing to do.

The cost of living for a single mother with two children in North Dakota is more than $43,000 a year, which means she would have to earn more than $20 per hour to make ends meet.

Repeatedly, I have heard from hard-working families who would benefit greatly from a modest increase in pay. If we increased the minimum wage, more than 60,000 North Dakotans would get a raise of about $1,200 per year, which would also impact 22,000 North Dakota children who would have at least one parent getting a better salary.

This might not seem like a lot to some, but this pay bump could go a long way in helping minimum-wage workers in North Dakota put food on the table, and a roof over their head. That’s something we should all support. But instead, Senate Republicans voted against raising the minimum wage and against hard working families. That’s truly disappointing.

(Heitkamp, a Democrat, is one of two senators representing North Dakota in