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Mathern says wage hike not going to cut it

FARGO -- The federal minimum wage increased from $5.85 to $6.55 per hour on Thursday, but North Dakota officials say the 70-cent increase will not significantly affect the job market or lend much aid to families struggling to keep up with increas...

FARGO -- The federal minimum wage increased from $5.85 to $6.55 per hour on Thursday, but North Dakota officials say the 70-cent increase will not significantly affect the job market or lend much aid to families struggling to keep up with increasing costs of living.

Democratic-NPL gubernatorial candidate Sen. Tim Mathern of Fargo outlined six policy changes that he said would create better-paying jobs in North Dakota and would facilitate a "family-friendly wage."

At a Thursday news conference, Mathern said the minimum wage increase is a positive step for the state, but parents need to make more than the $13,624 annual income that a $6.55 hourly wage provides.

"We're not going to create a minimum wage that's going to get to the $30,000 level, but we need to make sure the jobs we create pay at that level," Mathern said.

Job Service North Dakota research analyst Michael Ziesch said Thursday's minimum wage change will have a negligible affect on the state job market, which currently has about 14,000 openings.

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"Most employers are paying well above minimum wage," Ziesch said. "Most jobs have to pay around the $10 mark. That's when they (workers) would seriously consider them."

Since Gov. John Hoeven, who supported the minimum wage increase, was elected in 2000, the state has gained more than 30,000 jobs, said Don Larson, Hoeven's campaign manager.

Larson also said wages and income in North Dakota are growing faster than the national average.

Job Service research shows the percentage of North Dakota workers who earn at or below minimum wage has improved from 3.2 percent of hourly workers in 2006 to 2.6 percent of hourly workers in 2007, Ziesch said.

This week's increase is the second phase of a three-step plan, which includes another bump to $7.25 next year, said Lisa McEvers, North Dakota Labor Commissioner.

On Thursday, Mathern also discussed other fiscal policy ideas, including a plan to offer full tuition reimbursement for college students who work in North Dakota for a set period of time after graduating.

Hoeven will hold a press conference today to discuss a new tuition assistance initiative.

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The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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