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Michigan worker groups say minimum wage proposal could drive voter turnout

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Business and worker groups are waiting on a Michigan Supreme Court decision due by the end of the month. The state’s highest court has been asked to determine whether Republicans violated the Michigan Constitution six years ago while they controlled the Legislature. GOP lawmakers used a technical maneuver to dilute the effect of a petition campaign to increase the state minimum wage and require paid sick leave.

If the court strikes down the Republican action, that could clear the way for a dramatic increase in the hourly minimum wage currently set at $10.33 with a lower rate for teenagers.

A poll released Tuesday suggests a boost in the rate would be popular with voters heading into the 2024 elections. The Lake Research Partners survey determined a minimum wage increase would be particularly welcomed by younger voters and people of color -- critical groups for Democrats to turn out to win tight races.

Overall, the survey found 56% of voters favored a minimum wage increase with 42% strongly in favor. On the other side, 34% were opposed with 25% percent strongly opposed and 10% of voters surveyed said they were not sure one way or the other.

“It is the absolute top issue for young voters, Black voters, Latinx voters determining not just whether they vote, but who they vote for,” said Celinda Lake, who works primarily for Democrats and progressive causes. She said if the Michigan Supreme Court clears a path, there is a group of voters who are ready to be persuaded.

“They want it done now,” she said. “They want candidates to pass it. They overwhelmingly support it. They’re more motivated to turn out to vote and more motivated to vote for candidates who support this measure it. It is a no-brainer.”

State Representative Donavan McKinney (D-Detroit) said the focus on economic concerns is striking.

“It wasn’t guns. It wasn’t abortion,” he said. “It was the fact that I don’t have enough disposable income outside of paying my bills to do anything else. I just work to try to survive – and that’s so unfair to countless Michiganders across the state.”

The findings suggest a path to electoral success for Democrats as the stakes in Michigan are very high, from a close presidential contest to the balance of power in the Legislature as House Democrats try to hold onto a very slim majority.

But Republicans say many voters could change their minds when faced with the economic consequences of a higher minimum wage. They say that could include more inflation and slower hiring.

“I just don’t think that is a good message going forward whether you’re trying to build an economy in the state or you’re trying to win an election,” said Michigan Senate Republican spokesman Jeff Wiggins. “You had serious pushback on this from the workers, from the small business owners. It's going to be devastating to business owners when they have to raise prices again.”

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Rick Pluta is the managing editor for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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