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LINCOLN, Neb. | The median income of Nebraska households has fallen 5 percent in the past 10 years.

"More and more families are joining the ranks of those who are struggling paycheck to paycheck," Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist said Thursday.

Raising the minimum wage in Nebraska would help families, employers and the state's economy, he said. He introduced a bill (LB943) Thursday that would raise the state's minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to $9 over three years.

Next year, it would increase to $7.65 an hour and move to $8.35 the following year. By 2017 it would be at $9 an hour. 

Iowa Democrats have seized on polls showing strong support for raising the minimum wage and have promised to push the issue as the country heads into the midterm elections.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, and House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, both have said Iowa lawmakers in their caucus will introduce bills this session to raise minimum wage from the current $7.25. 

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, delivered a floor speech in Washington, D.C., recently and called for raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over three years.

Three Nebraska senators have introduced bills that could help families who work in lower-wage jobs and workers who must take time away from work to care for family members.

Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton introduced the Paid Family Medical Leave Act (LB955), which would protect employees from income losses caused by the need to take off time to care for newborns or other family members.

The federal Family Leave Act provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. The federal law covers about half of the workforce, Dubas said. Her bill would pay wages during that leave, up to six weeks a year if a worker is eligible.

The bill would create a state fund to pay for the employee leave, collected by covered employers from employees as payroll deductions.

Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad also introduced a bill (LB956) that would raise the earned income tax credit from 10 percent to 13 percent of the federal credit allowed. The earned income tax credit is a refundable tax credit for people earning low and medium incomes, particularly those with children.

In 2012, 133,693 Nebraska families claimed nearly $30 million in state earned income tax credit, according to the Nebraska Department of Revenue.

Nordquist said the minimum wage has not increased in Nebraska since 2009. Twenty-one states have minimum wages above the federal minimum, including Colorado and Missouri.

In Nebraska, some senators are opposed to raising it.

Sen. John Murante of Gretna said the proposal is a substantial increase and could cost the state jobs and could force struggling small businesses to make difficult decisions of firing employees or closing down altogether.  

The state should be encouraging those small businesses to grow and create more jobs, he said.

But Nordquist said raising the minimum wage is about valuing work.

In 2012, 32,000 hourly workers in the state earned the minimum amount of pay. Nebraska had the second highest percentage of hourly workers earning at or below minimum wage that year, compared to surrounding states.

A two-parent family, with both parents working full time for minimum wage, making $2,513 a month, doesn't meet basic needs without public or private assistance, according to Nordquist. The federal poverty level is $1,920 in monthly pay.

For a family of four in 2012, the economic self-sufficiency standard of basic needs is $2,984 a month. That requires an hourly wage of $8.61 for each parent.

"Not only does raising the minimum wage benefit workers, there is plenty of evidence to show it also benefits employers through reducing employee turnover and increasing employee productivity," Nordquist said.


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