TOWN SQUARE Minimum wage in your community

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BOONVILLE - The day KOMU 8 News went to interview Laurie Wagoner, she hadn't eaten at all by 5 p.m. She said it was because it is more important to her to pay all of her bills on time. And it happens often. 

She calls herself "working poor," because she is trying to live off making just above minimum wage. She works in the deli of a local supermarket. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014 report, about 5 percent of Missourians making hourly wages at or below minimum wage. That's roughly 72,000 people. This doesn't account for the thousands of Missouri residents, like Wagoner, who make just above, but struggle to make ends meet just the same. 

"I got a mortgage I got to pay, I got electric I got to pay. You know, I've got car payments I've got to pay. And it makes it rough. Really really rough," Wagoner said. 

She works 40 hours a week, because she said her boss won't let her work any more, so she can't make overtime. She hasn't seen most of her four kids in years, and has grandchildren and a daughter-in-law she hasn't met. She said that's because she can't afford to take the time off to go see them. 

Despite her hardships, Wagoner said she has great fear voting to raise the minimum wage. 

"I've seen what happened with the employees that shouted as much as they wanted to, and got that raise. And all of a sudden you see cuts. You see store closings. You see people going without jobs. I can't afford that," Wagoner said.

Last year, different entities starting creating legislation to take a stand on the minimum wage. Secretary of State Jason Kander approved three initiative petitions related to minimum wage to appear on the 2016 ballot. And Rep.  Michael Butler, D- St. Louis, filed a bill that would raise minimum wage to $15 by 2017, and adjust to inflation every year after. 

One petition approved by Kander would raise the wage to $9 for now and increase it to $15 by 2023.

The General Manager of Columbia's Seoul Taco, Lauren Johnson said her restaurant could handle a raise to $9, but $15 would cause for some adjustments. 

"I guess we'd probably have to cut our employee base by probably like a third; which is kind of impossible for us at that moment," Johnson said. "We would have to set up a whole new budget system to make sure we're paying our employees what they deserve and what they would be getting if it was bumped up, and just make sure that we 're not going over budget with employee payouts and employee costs."

Wagoner said she understands that it would not be her company's fault if a higher minimum wage lead to her losing her job. The potential backlash is why she hesitates to vote for the measure. 

"I don't want to see my store get closed. I don't want to have to lose my job because minimum wage goes up and they can't afford to pay us," Wagoner said. “I love my job. Despite anything, I love my job. And I don’t want to lose it for nothing.”

In a survey, 45 percent of KOMU 8 viewers disagreed or strongly disagreed minimum wage should go up to $9 and about 44 percent agreed or strongly agreed. When KOMU 8 News asked viewers, in that same survey, to rank the topics they're most concerned about in order of importance, 35 percent of viewers placed minimum wage in first or second place, out of eight. Many viewers said $7.65 simply isn't a living wage. 

Wagoner said for her to vote to raise minimum wage, she would ask the gubernatorial candidates one thing. 

“I want a guarantee that my work isn’t going to fold, or downsize. You know, what’s in it for them [her company]?" Wagoner said. “I want some guarantees knowing that if I vote yes on the minimum wage, that I’m still going to have job. And full time too. Because I need insurance.”

For our Town Square segment, we also talked to people on both sides of the legalization of marijuana.

KOMU 8 Anchor Katie Link spoke with Mid-Missouri NORML President Josh Chittum and Missouri Sheriffs' Association Board Member Kevin Bond about the issue.