When the hamburgers you make are worth more than you are

Higher wage doomsayers warn that some businesses might be forced to leave the city, which might not be such a bad thing.

Higher wage doomsayers warn that some businesses might be forced to leave the city, which might not be such a bad thing.

Sondra Jones grasps the racket. She lives it daily. Minneapolitans like her, who lack a seat at the economic feast, know they're damned if they work, and damned if they lounge.

Last baseball season, the 25-year-old worked concessions at Target Field. Her employer, New Heights Staffing, does business with the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, the entity that owns the building on behalf of taxpayers who paid for it. New Heights pays the likes of Jones to staff the stadium each game day, depending on anticipated attendance.

On any given game day, Jones would get a text from the business, telling her to show up in an hour if she wanted work. More often than not, 100 to 150 others would arrive as well, waiting in line and hoping their time would prove fruitful.

Sometimes Jones considered herself lucky. She'd be among the chosen who would earn up to $9.25 per hour, working a four-hour shift, yet investing a total of six hours because she'd have to stand in line for the privilege to be counted among the working poor.         

"I want to work. I don't want to be lazy," says Jones, who was born and raised in the City of Lakes. "I'm telling you, though, the way things are is messed up."

As a Target Field temp, Jones would score four shifts one week, and the next just one. Her biggest take over a two-week period last year was $250.

"I know plenty of people in Minneapolis in the same situation," she says. "They might be working fast food or security, making under $10 an hour. You can get subsidized housing. For me, that means 30 percent of my income to rent. I got $200 in food stamps and medical from the state. But say if I wanna go to college and take out a student loan to do it, I'm no longer eligible for that stuff.

"For me personally, I want a good job, working 40 hours a week, but you can see why some people might not want to go work because the way the system works, there's no incentive when you try to do right."

Count Jones among those in Minneapolis pushing for a November referendum, which, if successful, would ask residents to vote to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 per hour. Community and labor groups like 15 Now will launch a ballot measure campaign this month. They need to gather about 7,000 signatures in order to get the issue before the electorate.

Jones concedes a higher wage wouldn't be some panacea. Earning more could mean losing government assistance, which isn't a bad thing, but it's not the stuff of living "in relative comfort and stability," as city council member Andrew Johnson noted in a recent blog.

Still, trying is better than nothing. Nothing is what Jones and others believe politicians have been delivering time and again.

This political glacier, says Jones, most recently took the form of the city council consenting to burn $150,000 on a consulting company to study the the potential impacts of a higher minimum wage. 

"Nobody knows what would happen with 15 bucks an hour," says Jones. "Yeah, you might have people more qualified coming in from the suburbs taking the jobs from us who live in the city. I've heard some businesses said they'd leave Minneapolis.

"When I was working at Target Field, sometimes I'd be making burgers and they'd be selling for like $13.20 or some shit like that. So you're telling me I can work my butt off hour after hour, and some burger is worth way more than I am?"