INDIANAPOLIS | Despite overwhelming odds against success, state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, will lead the fight to increase Indiana's minimum wage when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 6.
The three-term lawmaker is sponsor of Senate Bill 41, which would boost the state's lowest legal pay rate to $10.10 per hour on July 1, up from the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.
In an interview with The Times, Tallian said Indiana is long overdue in joining the 29 other states that require businesses pay their workers more than the federal minimum wage, including Illinois ($8.25 per hour), Michigan ($8.15) and Ohio ($8.10). The federal minimum last was increased in 2009.
"Someone has to say that we need this. Someone has to speak for the people who otherwise have no voice," Tallian said. "We're losing ground compared to other states on our median income."
In 2005, Indiana's median household income of $43,993 trailed the U.S. average by $2,250. The gap between Indiana and the rest of the nation grew to a deficit of $4,721 in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Tallian said a higher minimum wage will both improve Hoosier incomes and properly reward hard work, pointing to U.S. Department of Labor statistics showing 88 percent of minimum wage-earners are 20 or older, and 55 percent are women, typically single mothers.
An employee working 40 hours a week at the current minimum wage will earn, before taxes, $15,080 a year in Indiana. The federal poverty threshold for a two-person family is $15,730.
"There's no reason that anyone who is working full time should be below the poverty level," Tallian said.
At $10.10 per hour, a full-time employee would earn $21,008 in a year. Approximately 108,000 Hoosier workers were paid at or below the minimum wage in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Tallian rejected the oft-heard complaint that businesses can't afford to pay their workers a salary higher than the minimum wage.
She said the minimum wage always lags inflation, sometimes by as much as a decade, so businesses constantly are taking in more money while paying their workers the same amount, using dollars that have less value.
Moreover, she said Indiana businesses would have more customers, particularly small businesses, if Hoosiers had more money to spend.
Tallian is not alone in championing a higher minimum wage. House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, has vowed to force the House Republican supermajority to confront the issue next year.
"We're going to continue to talk about that, because wages -- middle-class wages in particular -- remain a problem here in this state," Pelath said. "We're going backwards instead of forwards."
However, if prior attempts at increasing Indiana's minimum wage are any indication, Tallian and Pelath are in for a tough fight.
Last session, two proposals, including an increase to $10 per hour over two years sponsored by state Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond, and Tallian's plan for an immediate increase to $10 per hour, died without even getting a committee hearing in the Republican-controlled Senate.
An attempt to amend a minimum wage increase onto other legislation moving through the House was ruled out of order by Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, on a procedural technicality; a decision the full chamber endorsed 66-28 on a party-line vote.
Several GOP lawmakers claimed a higher minimum wage would reduce Indiana's economic competitiveness with neighboring states, while others argued any minimum wage is improper government interference in the free market.
Republican Gov. Mike Pence repeatedly opposed federal minimum wage increases during his 10 years as a member of Congress, and signed a 2013 Indiana law barring localities from setting a minimum wage higher than the state's rate.