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Commentary 2021

No child in Nebraska should go to bed hungry or wake up fearful of losing their home. No parent should have to work all year, without vacation or sick days, and still be unable to provide the basic necessities to keep their children safe and healthy. Our children, communities, and state are stronger when all Nebraska families are able to participate fully in the workforce and establish financial security. We must ensure that families are able to meet their children’s basic needs and that our children have an opportunity to thrive.

It is well established that increasing the minimum wage leads to happier and healthier children who have a much better chance of economic security in adulthood. The financial well-being of a family impacts children in obvious ways, such as the ability to put food on the table and access safe, affordable housing. However, there are less obvious ways in which children benefit from increased wages as well. For example, increased household earnings can mean that parents can spend more quality time with their children, can provide additional educational opportunities for their children, and can afford extracurricular activities. Higher wages increase some job-related flexibilities, giving parents the ability to reduce work hours as needed or choose work schedules that coincide with school hours.¹ Higher wages lead to happier and healthier children and families, in many ways that are obvious and many more that are not.

In 2020, 78.1% of children in our state had all available parents in the workforce.² Unfortunately, having high labor force participation does not always translate into family economic stability. The Covid-19 pandemic and resulting economic fallout has caused significant hardship for families in Nebraska. The slow economic recovery is being complicated by record-setting inflation and significant escalation

in the cost of living. As a result, Nebraska families continue to struggle to make ends meet. Raising the minimum wage would benefit workers in low-wage and essential jobs across the state. This is especially true for women, and particularly women of color, who are concentrated in jobs that pay at or just above the minimum wage. These jobs – cashiers and childcare providers, for example – were celebrated for their “essential” role in the height of the pandemic, but have not seen a corresponding focus on increasing their compensation.

(New) median income for familes with children

Currently, the federal minimum wage is just $7.25 per hour, and Nebraska’s minimum wage is only slightly higher, at $9 per hour. The subminimum wage for tipped workers and some other limited groups of workers is shockingly low, at $2.13 per hour. The minimum wage in Nebraska is not currently tied to inflation; as a result, those working minimum wage jobs today have less money each year than they did the year before. The cost of basic necessities has increased each year, but the minimum wage has not. For a parent making just $9 per hour, a 50 cent uptick in the cost of a gallon of milk may put a mealtime staple out of reach.4

The chart below illustrates the gap between low-wage earnings and the amount needed to provide for a two-parent family with two children. It assumes that both parents work full-time (40 hours per week), year round (52 weeks per year). That means no vacation, no sick time, just work.


According to the Center for American Progress, approximately 103,945 children in Nebraska live in a household with a worker making less than $15 per hour (about $31,000 per year) in 2020.6 It is estimated that over 50,000 Nebraska children live below the federal poverty level (FPL) and over 21,000 are growing up in extreme poverty. It is clear that the economic status quo is not working for families.7

Raising Nebraska’s minimum wage would immediately reduce our state’s tragically high child poverty level and promote better outcomes for children and families. As noted above, there is a substantial gap between low-wage earnings and the amount needed to provide for a two-parent family with two children. To address this issue, Raise the Wage Nebraska, a broad coalition of Nebraska individuals and organizations, is working to pass a ballot initiative to gradually raise Nebraska’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026. In addition to raising the minimum wage, the proposed change would ensure the state’s wage levels are responsive to the future economic needs of Nebraska families by setting the wage threshold to automatically adjust on an annual basis to account for increases in the cost of living. If the coalition gathers the required number of signatures in time, Nebraskans will have the opportunity to vote to gradually increase the minimum wage in the November 2022 election.

Figure 2 shows that Nebraska would need to increase the minimum wage to at least $14.50 per hour effective immediately to ensure that most households in Nebraska have an income that meets the Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Standard. As shown in Figure 3, the Raise the Wage initiative would phase in the minimum wage increase over time.


Nebraska’s economy is leaving too many families behind as wage growth year after year fails to keep pace with the increases in cost of living. As hard as parents try to insulate their children from economic hardship, often to their own detriment, too many children in Nebraska are living in poverty and suffering long-term harm because of it. Increasing the minimum wage is a critically important policy option that would immediately provide economic relief to those who need it most.


  1. White, G, “A Small Boost in Income Makes a Big Difference for Kids,” The Atlantic, September 27,
  2. U.S. Census Bureau, 2020 American Community Survey 5-year Estimates, Table B23008.
  3. U.S. Census Bureau, 2020 American Community Survey 5-year Estimates, Table B19126.
  4. Found at
  5. Voices for Children in Nebraska, “2021 Kids Count in Nebraska Report”, “Making Ends Meet”, 47.
  6. Center for American Progress , “Building an Economy that Supports All Children Requires Raising the Minimum Wage”, 2/25/2021.
  7. Voices for Children in Nebraska, “2021 Kids Count in Nebraska Report”, “Poverty in Nebraska”, 46.

Additional Sources

i. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers, 2021.
ii. Health and Human Services. 2021 Poverty Guidelines.
iii. National Womens Law Center, Tipped Workers State by State, 2019, available at
iv. Center for American Progress, “Raising the Minimum Wages Would Boost an Economic Recovery — and reduce Taxpayer Subsidization of Low-Wage Work”, 1/17/2021.
v. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “State Earned Income Tax Credits and Minimum Wages Work Best Together”, 3/9/2020.
vi. Center for American Progress, “Building an Economy that Suppport All Children Requires Raising the Minimum Wage”, 2/25/2021.
vii. Center for American Progress, “Raising the Minimum Wage Would Be Transformative for Women”, 2/23/2021.