COWS: Releases Can’t Survive on $7.25: Higher Minimum Wages for Working Wisconsin

CONTACT: Laura Dresser, COWS Associate Director, 608-695-9065

Today, COWS | High Road Strategy Center released Can’t Survive on $7.25: Higher Minimum Wages for Working Wisconsin which paints a picture of who wins in Wisconsin with higher minimum wages and some reasons to support higher labor standards for the state. The report provides data for increasing the state minimum wage on a five year timeline to both $15 and $20 per hour. Inflation, higher labor standards, and higher costs of living necessitate the consideration of dramatically higher wage floors.

“With a minimum wage of just $7.25, Wisconsin is part of a shrinking number of states using the federal standard to establish the wage floor,” said Laura Dresser, report author and Associate Director of COWS. “And while many workers have seen raises in recent years, we show that a stronger wage floor would reach hundreds of thousands of workers in the state.”  

A few key findings:

Raising Wisconsin’s minimum to $15 would raise wages of just under fifteen percent of the state’s workers (more than 375,000 workers). 

Raising the state minimum to $20 would raise wages for one-third the state workforce (nearly 900,000 workers). 

Black, Brown, Women, and Teenage workers stand the most to gain. 

One of every four of the state’s Black and Hispanic workers (25.6% and 26.6%, respectively) would see their wages rise with $15/hour. Similarly, 18% of women workers and 80% of teenage workers would see their wages rise with $15/hr.

More than half of all Wisconsin workers that win with a $15 minimum wage are employed in just two sectors: Restaurants and Retail.

188,700 of the state’s total 379,300 workers who would see a raise with $15/hr work in restaurants and retail which are the states two largest low-wage sectors.

Ending the “tip credit” in the Wisconsin minimum wage would bring relief to the state’s tipped workers. 

Across every border of our state (in Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois), tipped workers are paid higher wages for their work. Eliminating the tip credit would provide relief to 50,800 workers. 

Can’t Survive on $7.25: Higher Minimum Wages for Working Wisconsin is a product of the “EARN in the Midwest” project in Wisconsin, a collaborative of COWS | High Road Strategy CenterMilwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH), and Kids Forward.

Read the full report here.



Based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, COWS | High Road Strategy Center is a national think-and-do tank that promotes “high road” solutions to social problems. These treat shared growth and opportunity, environmental sustainability, and resilient democratic institutions as necessary and achievable complements in human development. COWS | High Road Strategy Center is nonpartisan but values-based. We seek a world of equal opportunity and security for all.


The Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH) is an organization of service and hospitality workers in Milwaukee focused on improving employment and workforce standards in our industries. MASH addresses the challenges facing workers and employers in order to transform employment, industries, our community, and our lives.


Headquartered in Madison, Kids Forward inspires action and promotes access to opportunity for every kid, every family, and every community in Wisconsin, notably children and families of color and those furthest from opportunity. Using a research- and community-informed approach, Kids Forward advocates for effective, long-lasting solutions that break down barriers to success for children and families.