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Missouri’s minimum wage rose to $12 an hour. Workers say it’s still not enough

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Leann Mineo works as a manager at Claire's in Ward Parkway Center. She says she has made above minimum wage for a while now, but it is still difficult to pay her bills.

Minimum-wage workers in Missouri now make $12 an hour. While Missouri and other other states have raised worker pay, the Kansas minimum wage has stayed at the federal level of $7.25 per hour.

Missouri’s minimum wage rose to $12 an hour this month for most private businesses, up 85 cents from last year. The increase is the final piece of Proposition B, a statewide ballot measure that went into effect in 2018 and steadily raised the minimum wage to $12. From now on, wage increases will depend on inflation. The minimum wage in Kansas remains stuck at $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum.

Laron Gilliam is a sales associate at Foot Locker in Ward Parkway Center. He says he makes minimum wage there; the Foot Locker gig is a second job he works part time to supplement his income.

Gilliam says the minimum wage may be enough for teenagers, but making $12 an hour is a “hard crutch to stand on” for working adults.

“I always, always feel like, you know, kids up and coming just need something to keep 'em busy, like for school and just get 'em through the early stages really. For an adult? Terrible,” says Gilliam.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Laron Gilliam works two jobs to support his family. He says his part time job at Foot Locker pays minimum wage, and he wouldn't be able to survive on minimum wage alone.

Leeann Mineo, a store manager at Claire’s at Ward Parkway, agrees with Gilliam. She says with as much as everything costs right now, minimum wage is not a living wage.

“Making minimum wage, I couldn't imagine because I haven't made it in a few years. But even making what I do now, it feels like minimum wage,” says Mineo. “I still feel like it's paycheck to paycheck and it's a struggle.”

Mineo says at her Claire’s location, they rarely hire at minimum wage because it is hard to find workers who will accept that pay.

Exceptions and future raises

Some Missouri businesses are exempt from the state minimum wage rate. Retail or service employers that make less than $500,000 in annual sales are not required to pay minimum wage. Public employees can also be paid less than state minimum wage.

Under the increase, tipped workers at non-exempt businesses in Missouri are paid $6 an hour. But if a tipped employee does not make $12 or more an hour with tips, their employer is required to pay the difference.

Next year, the minimum wage is not scheduled to increase at a set rate. Instead, an increase depends on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a tool to track inflation.

Minimum wage in Kansas

Across the state line in Kansas, minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Though 2023 brought minimum wage increases to 23 states, Kansas remains at the federal level and the minimum wage has not risen in the state in more than a decade. Workers and employers are feeling it.

At Oak Park Mall in Overland Park many businesses pay above minimum wage to attract workers. Devin Witt, a store manager at Locker Room by Lids, says even though he could hire workers at minimum wage, he doesn’t, “because it’s just the right thing to do.”

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Devin Witt, a manager at Locker Room by Lids in Oak Park Mall says minimum wage in Kansas is too low, so he hires workers above minimum wage.

Witt says it’s difficult trying to survive on hourly wages even above the minimum wage.

“It's stressful every day. So that's kind of the main reason, like, people are worth more than $7.25,” he says

Last year, a bill to steadily increase the minimum wage in Kansas to $16 an hour by 2026 was introduced but failed in committee.

Danielle Carter, who works as a manager at Tabu Knits, a small, locally owned boutique in Oak Park Mall, says it’s about time for an increase in the state’s minimum wage.

Carter makes above minimum wage. There’s no way, Carter says, she would have taken the job if it only paid minimum wage. She says $7.25 is not a liveable wage for anyone, especially for adults with families to support.

“I couldn't imagine what anybody with children could do with that. Better yet just myself. So I would absolutely — I'm against that. I'm against it,” says Carter.

Carter says Kansas needs to step up and pass a minimum wage increase.

“We deserve that for all that we put into, you know, just the environment and being here,” she says. “So yeah, we are part of the environment whether we are middle class, lower class, high class, doesn't matter. We all make up the community so we all deserve good pay.”

Missouri employees that feel like they are not being paid the correct wages can file a minimum wage complaint through the Missouri Department of Labor’s website. Kansas workers can file a complaint through the Kansas Department of Labor’s website.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga is a freelance reporter for KCUR 89.3.
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