By Brandi Makuski
Councilwoman Cathy Dugan wants the City Council to get an education on living wage.
At Monday’s Public Protection Committee, Dugan said she wanted the committee to include a discussion on poverty and wages at some future meeting, citing her concerns after reading the United Way’s ALICE report: a 280-page county-by-county study of affordable housing, job opportunities and community resources across the state.
“Take a look at the report — we have a lot of people living on the edge of poverty, a lot of people just really scraping by,” Dugan said on March 13. “And it’s important for people to know this.”
Following the meeting, Mayor Mike Wiza said he’s not sure City Council is the right venue for the discussion, but he’s reserving judgement until a formal request is made to place the issue on a meeting agenda.
“[Dugan] hasn’t approached me about it,” Wiza said. “But the city has no control over setting minimum wages, so I’m not sure what she wants the discussion to lead to.”
According to the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report, about 39 percent of residents in Portage Co. live at or below the federal poverty level. Dugan thinks that’s too high.
A similar discussion came to the Portage Co. Board of Supervisors in 2014, when Rep. Katrina Shankland presented the County Board with a petition of about 600 signatures asking for a referendum supporting an increase in the state’s $7.25 minimum wage. That November, voters approved a nonbinding resolution to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10, but it made no effect on the state level. According to the Dept. of Labor, the last minimum wage increase in Wisconsin occurred in 2009, but it was a federally-mandated increase, not a state move.
The current City Council has already spent time on a number of social issues, to include a resolution condemning hate speech, and another formally opposing the Dakota pipeline. Both, Wiza admitted, were symbolic in nature.
When asked why she felt the council should spend time on an issue over which it has no control, Dugan said the council was in a position to “encourage” local employers to consider offering higher wages.
“If the discussion would get local employers to think two or three times, maybe pay another 50 cents an hour, or a dollar an hour,” Dugan said. “There’s no reason so many people in Stevens Point are barely getting by.”