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St. Louis Raised The Minimum Wage, Then Missouri Reversed It


St. Louis recently increased its minimum wage to $10 an hour, more than $2 higher than the rest of the state. But the Missouri legislature has just passed a bill to nullify that city law, which means some St. Louis workers will likely lose raises they just got. St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum has more.

JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: St. Louis joins cities such as Seattle, Chicago and Oakland that raised minimum wages above the state's standard. When the city's ordinance went into effect in May, the minimum wage for most St. Louis workers rose to $10 an hour. It was set to go up to $11 an hour in 2018. Then the state stepped in. The GOP-controlled legislature and Republican governor backed a bill barring St. Louis from enforcing its minimum wage law. After August 28, St. Louis residents like McDonald's employee Wanda Rogers will see her wages shrink from $10 an hour to as low as $7.70 an hour.

WANDA ROGERS: Me and my family will go back to suffering. That means I will have to worry about, how am I going to pay my bills and have money left over to buy food and pay rent?

ROSENBAUM: St. Louis alderwoman Megan Green says state officials are not only making it harder for low-income workers to get by, but they're also needlessly meddling in the city's decision making.

MEGAN GREEN: What we know is cities are incubators. And we're the first place that policy gets tested out before it expands statewide and nationally.

ROSENBAUM: Republicans like Governor Eric Greitens have a different perspective on cities with higher minimum wages. He's pointed to studies showing that Seattle's $13-an-hour minimum wage for some businesses led to employers cutting worker hours. Greitens is worried that businesses will flee St. Louis. And hollow out one of the state's biggest local economies.

ERIC GREITENS: Despite the promises of liberal politicians and politicians in the city of St. Louis, the policy that they engage with would've actually had the exact opposite effect. It would've led to fewer jobs and lower pay.

ROSENBAUM: Dan Mehan is with the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, a business advocacy group that supported getting rid of St. Louis's minimum wage law. He says businesses are torn about what to do when the city ordinance goes away after August 28. Some grocery store chains and health care companies have said they'll rescind their pay increases. Mehan says some businesses don't have much of a choice, as they were already struggling to make ends meet before the minimum wage law went into effect.

DAN MEHAN: The problem is that, even though people would like to make more money and can do more things if they make more money, if they lose a job as a result of a wage increase, who won? No one.

ROSENBAUM: Jonathan Jones doesn't feel like his business is losing out because of the St. Louis law. He's the owner of Southwest Diner, a bustling eatery just inside St. Louis's city limits that serves up breakfast burritos and cornmeal pancakes. The St. Louis minimum wage ordinance required Jones to pay some of his tipped servers more money. But he says he's not going to reduce his workers' wages once the city law goes away.

JONATHAN JONES: And, hopefully, the rest of the business community will also kind of follow suit. The more money that's in the pockets of the workers of St. Louis - it's better for business. It's better for the city. It's better for those people, obviously.

ROSENBAUM: St. Louis officials decide against suing to preserve its higher minimum wage. The best way to boost pay for low-wage workers in St. Louis could be through a ballot initiative that increases the minimum wage all across the state. For NPR News, I'm Jason Rosenbaum in St. Louis.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SEA AND CAKE SONG, "LIGHTNING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, Rosenbaum's work appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and the Riverfront Times' music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter. Rosenbaum lives in Richmond Heights with with his wife Lauren and their two sons.

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