The Monument to Labor along Riverfront Drive served as the backdrop Thursday for the Omaha stop of the “Give America a Raise” bus tour promoting a higher minimum wage.
The tour is sponsored by Americans United for Change, a Democratic Party-leaning group that is calling for a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour, up from $7.25.
State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha said Nebraska has one of the lowest unemployment rates and one of the highest rates of working parents in the country.
Yet childhood poverty has grown by 30 percent in the past four years, he said.
“The message is clear from those stats,” said Nordquist, a Democrat. “Nebraskans are working hard, but that hard work is not paying.”
Someone working full-time at minimum wage makes $15,080 yearly.
The change group said that according to MIT's Living Wage Calculator, a person living in Omaha needs $18,096 yearly to meet the basic costs of living.
With the proposed $10.10 wage, minimum wage workers would make $21,008 yearly.
Nordquist's district, which includes part of downtown and South Omaha, has “a lot of low-income workers who are struggling to get by,” he said.
His bill to raise the minimum wage to $9 in Nebraska failed to advance this year in the Legislature.
Nordquist touted ValuingWork.com, where he hopes to gauge support for a possible ballot measure on the minimum wage in November. He said about 80,000 petition signatures are needed by early July.
State Sen. Tanya Cook, a north Omaha Democrat, said a common misconception about minimum wage jobs is one her mother made recently.
Her mother, an 83-year-old retired schoolteacher, referred to a McDonald's job as what her son used to have in high school — not a job for people with others to support.
Cook said of the McDonald's at 30th & Weber Streets: “There's a grown person in there. Occasionally a teenager, but usually a grown woman or grown man working at that job to support themselves, and (the wage is) not enough. It's not extra kick-around money. It's supporting families.”
Nordquist urged members of Nebraska's congressional delegation to raise the minimum wage.
Larry Farnsworth, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., said the congressman's office receives more calls from Omaha manufacturers and small business owners, saying they can't find people with the skills for high-paying jobs, than calls regarding minimum wage complaints.