HELENA — Montana Democrats presented a bill to gradually increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour to give essential workers a raise and bolster Montana’s long term economic recovery. 

Montana Democrats have led the way this session in proposing legislation to bring jobs and opportunity for all Montanans, and included raising wages for hardworking Montanans in their stated priorities at the start of the session.

“Over the last year, essential workers have made tremendous sacrifices to keep our economy running. They have ensured we can buy groceries, kept our restaurants and main street businesses open, provided home health care to loved ones, and cared for our children and grandchildren,” Sen. Mark Sweeney said. “By raising the minimum wage we can give these workers a much deserved raise and boost Montana’s economy.”

Montana’s minimum wage is currently $8.75 per hour and is adjusted for inflation in January of each year. Sen. Mark Sweeney presented Senate Bill 187 in Senate Business and Labor on Friday to increase the minimum wage by $1.25 in 2022 and then by an additional $1 per year until it reaches $12 an hour in 2024. After reaching $12 an hour in 2024, the minimum wage would remain tied to inflation to ensure Montanans can afford the same goods and services in the future. The bill would benefit 135,000 Montanans who currently make less than $12 an hour. 

Under current law and existing inflation forecasts, the state minimum wage would likely not reach $12 until 2034. The current minimum wage is at a lower point than it was in 1970 after adjusting for inflation and needs to be increased to allow today’s minimum wage workers the same chance to get ahead as provided in the past. 

In addition to providing a much needed raise to low wage earners, putting more money in the pockets of Montanans will increase consumer spending and support economic recovery. 

In addition to consulting many businesses when drafting the bill, Sen. Sweeney addressed several myths that have been used in the past to argue against raising the minimum wage, including: 

Myth: Minimum wage workers are often young and entry level part-time workers. 

Fact: According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average age of minimum wage workers in the U.S. is 36 years old and nearly 90 percent are 20 and older. Nearly 30 percent have children and 57 work full-time.  

Myth: Tips make up for low wages. 

Fact: According to the Montana Department of Labor & Industry, only 6 percent of Montana workers receive tips. Many minimum wage workers are working as receptionists, health aides, and in grocery stories.  

Myth: Minimum wage increases result in skyrocketing prices. 

Fact: A five year study of how minimum wage increases impacted McDonalds, they found a 10 percent minimum wage increase leads to only a 1.4 percent increase in the price of a Big Mac, which is equal to the inflationary increase in 2020 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The committee did not take action on the bill last Thursday.

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