Kim Reynolds, the incumbent Republican Governor of Iowa, has been busy on twitter touting the State’s economy:
Iowa’s unemployment rate remains the 2nd LOWEST in the country! Our pro-growth policies are working, wages are going up, taxes are going down, and we can’t turn back now! Let’s #KeepIowaMoving!!!! pic.twitter.com/HF5L3yIiIR
— Kim Reynolds (@KimReynoldsIA) October 19, 2018
Unfortunately, a low unemployment rate doesn’t mean squat if the wages people are earning aren’t enough to pay for basic necessities, which looks to be what has been happening in Iowa, as evidenced by a surge in demand for Iowa’s charity food pantries:
Despite a relatively good economy, local food pantries are seeing a double-digit increase in the number of hungry residents.
Des Moines pantries normally expect about a 3.5 percent increase each month, compared to the previous year. But for the last six months, that increase has more than tripled in the metro area, said Rev. Sarai Schnucker Rice, executive director of the Des Moines Area Religious Council, which oversees the network of 14 local pantries.
“Increases usually come when the economy is bad or there is a recession,” she said, but the current spike comes at a time when Iowa has historically low unemployment.
Greater Des Moines pantries expect to serve more than 22,000 people in November alone.
Many of those in need are children. About 16 percent of Iowa’s kids are food insecure, according to Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks.
According to a new report, the Food Bank of Iowa gave away 166,474 backpacks of food to children struggling with food insecurity in the past year. It also provided food to more school pantries than ever before. School staff identifies students in need and directs them to the donated pasta, meat, milk, produce and soup to take home.
Despite a 2.5% unemployment rate in Iowa, wages have lagged the country and surrounding states:
Almost all recent gains in Iowa wages have gone to the top 20% of earners:
Source: The State of Working Iowa: Wages
A major contributor to stagnant wages in Iowa has been the State’s minimum wage, which has stayed at $7.25/hour for the last 11 years. If the minimum wage in Iowa had simply been adjusted for inflation each year, it would now be over $9/hour. That might not seem like a huge difference, but for a low wage earner, it could be the difference between being able to pay for food or not. The minimum wage is long overdue for an upward adjustment everywhere in this country, but low wages equal greater profits for corporate executives, so in states that are governed by Republicans like Iowa, any increases in wages have been repeatedly fought against.
In fact, in Iowa, some counties had taken it upon themselves to raise the minimum wage in their own counties because the State hadn’t taken action. Not content to just refuse to raise the State’s minimum wage, Iowa Republicans passed legislation to prevent individual counties from raising their own minimum wage:
Tens of thousands of Iowa workers who received a raise in Iowa could see their pay cut after the governor signed a bill that would roll back the minimum wage throughout the state.
On Thursday, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R) signed House File 295, which prohibits any county or city in the state from exceeding the statewide minimum wage of $7.25.
The statewide minimum wage is the same as the federal minimum and has remained at $7.25 since 2008.
The bill passed the Iowa House on March 9 with a 56-41 vote, and the Senate on March 27 with a 29-21 vote along party lines. After signing it into law, Branstad said using different minimum wage standards “create[d] confusion.” He says the bill “provides uniformity through the state on Iowa’s minimum wage.”
Iowa’s Republican Governor may be able to find statistics that show Iowa’s economy is doing well, but a deeper dive into the State’s economy shows that only the wealthy are seeing any gains. In real world terms, this can clearly be seen by the increased demand in the number of Iowans who are having to turn to charity food pantries to feed their families. Iowa needs wage growth, and that won’t come from a Governor who refuses to raise the minimum wage.