As many Iowans can relate, hard work was a part of life when I was growing up. There were no shortcuts on the family farm in Southwest Iowa. It was expected of you to pull your weight—and, yes, that included castrating hogs. I had one good pair of shoes and, on rainy days, mom would cover them with bread bags so they wouldn’t be ruined. And, like many Iowans, to save for college, I worked. I had the morning shift making biscuits at Hardee’s; I helped my dad with construction jobs; and I even started selling shoes at Parisian. It’s hard for me to remember a time when I wasn’t working, and I’m certain that’s the case for lots of my fellow Iowans.
Throughout this pandemic, we’ve tragically seen too many workers lose their jobs while many of our local small businesses have barely been able to make ends meet. Restaurants and retailers have been forced to close. Child care centers are still struggling to keep their doors open for working families.
I’ve worked hard with Sen. Grassley — and Democrats and Republicans — to secure federal resources specifically for our small businesses, working families, and communities. Governor Reynolds has shown great leadership and focused on quickly distributing this federal support. But there’s no question Iowa families, workers, and small businesses continue to face challenges. That’s why one of my top priorities is helping Iowans who are still struggling, with a focus on getting workers back on the job, kids in school, and our child care centers open.
The right answer is not a liberal wish list from career Washington politicians, specifically a drastic national minimum wage spike to $15 an hour. This could have disastrous effects on states like Iowa and our hardworking families. I’ve long said that the minimum wage should be left up to the states. Why? Because the cost of living in Iowa is vastly different than that of New York or California. Iowa is a rural state, heavily dependent on agriculture, with a median household income sitting around $60,000. Certainly increasing wages for Iowa workers is something that I believe we can and should work on, but a $15 federal minimum wage would be the wrong path.
I’ve heard directly from Iowa employers, like our grocers, who say that a $15 federal minimum wage would force them to stop hiring young people. And I agree with the Iowa Restaurant Association that the timing of this proposal by the Biden administration, and many lawmakers in Congress, is “nothing short of tone deaf.” As they put it, “Iowa's hospitality industry simply cannot survive a blow this crushing — it will cost jobs and businesses.”
When it comes to child care in our state, Iowa families have been facing a crisis even before the pandemic. I’ve long been working to help increase resources and support for our current centers, and to help build more across our state, especially in rural areas. But what won’t help us eliminate child care disparities, in Iowa and across the country, is a $15 federal minimum wage. In fact, it would only lead to more closures and shortages, taking away options and limiting opportunity and affordability for working families.
If we want there to be jobs left for workers to go to, both during and after this pandemic, a huge spike in a federal minimum wage is simply unsustainable. Instead, we should provide targeted relief to families and businesses and facilitate an economic recovery across our state and country. Increasing the federal minimum wage right now does just the opposite: it would burden Iowa’s small businesses at a time when they can least afford it, it would slow recovery, and it would eliminate many lower-wage jobs. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that 1.3 million people would lose their job with a $15 federal minimum wage in place—and that’s in non-COVID times.
I stand ready to continue to help deliver economic relief to Iowans who still face serious challenges during this pandemic, but the first step for the Biden administration must be to reexamine their approach in their COVID relief package and to take the proposed federal minimum wage hike out.
Joni Ernst has represented Iowa in the U.S. Senate since 2015. A Republican from Red Oak, Ernst served in the Iowa State Senate from 2011 to 2014, and in the Iowa Army National Guard from 1993 to 2015, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.