Working Toward "A Minnesota Without Poverty"

June 2, 2014 / By: Rebecca Mariscal, class of ‘15
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Feb. 27 "Ketchup to the Cost of Living" Flash Mob at the MN State Capitol, organized by BSW Field Interns

What does a flash mob have to do with minimum wage legislation?  Quite A LOT when it comes to three BSW students doing their field placements this spring at A Minnesota without Poverty. 

On February 27, almost 50 participants – including many St. Kate’s and St. Thomas students and faculty - donned bright red t-shirts that read, “Ketchup to the cost-of-living. Raise the minimum wage,” and performed a flash mob at the State Capitol.  The effort was led by BSW student, Caitlyn Wright, who has been working with fellow social work students, Christina Reinke and Alicia Moder, to raise awareness and create support for the minimum wage legislation through their field placements at A Minnesota without Poverty. On April 14, the Minnesota Senate passed the legislation to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2016.

A Minnesota without Poverty is a group created to organize and lead a statewide movement to end poverty in the United States by 2020, Wright said, a date set in a 2009 report by the Legislative Commission to End Poverty.  The group targets its initiatives to fit the recommendations laid out by the commission and focuses on community organizing and public policy. In addition to macro efforts, A Minnesota without Poverty also has a program that trains volunteers and provides micro-loans to people in poverty to start their own businesses. “That’s something that makes A Minnesota with Poverty unique,” Reinke said.

In the push to increase minimum wage, A Minnesota without Poverty joined the Minimum Wage Coalition, Wright said.  This was a group of hundreds of organizations throughout Minnesota, both large and small. “Usually, it is difficult to get such large support from different organizations,” Wright explained, “but it’s been in the conversation and I think everyone saw the momentum building.”

Minnesota’s minimum wage had not been raised since 2005, but projections made in relation to inflation showed the minimum wage should be at $9.50. Minnesota is one of a handful of states that, before this new legislation, had a minimum wage below the federal minimum wage.

“We’re used to hearing that this really is a great place to live, and it’s really surprising for people when they realize Minnesota is not doing well in something,” Reinke said. “People got upset. People were inspired to say that’s not OK, not in my state.”

Reinke and Wright attributed much of the success of the legislation to the community support, not just the organizational efforts. Many constituents communicated with their representatives, Reinke said, and that influenced how the legislators voted.  

“A lot of people got really involved in the legislative process surrounding this issue,” Wright said. “It wasn’t just social service organizations or advocacy organizations that were doing it.”

Another part of the campaign for a higher minimum wage was holding forums that the students helped coordinate throughout different districts in Minnesota.  “We just wanted to get people talking about the issue,” she said. “If they felt inspired to call their legislators, then great.”

Moving forward, A Minnesota without Poverty will focus on economic mobility, including the June 2 conference, Economic Mobility: Moving Toward Enough for All, that was co-sponsored by the School of Social Work.

Wright said seeing legislation for a higher minimum wage pass showed her that advocating for a cause can produce results.

“I think people think of legislation as this dull drudgery that goes on for years and years and nothing changes anyway,” she said. “[This] restored my faith in the process because things actually can change.”