As we begin to turn the corner from the worst recession in many of our lifetimes, too many working Oregonians and small businesses are being left behind by the economic recovery.

If we’re going to strengthen the state’s economy for everyone, working Oregonians need to be paid at least enough to spend on the basics. When people can’t afford to see the doctor, pay for child care or put food on the table, it hurts all of us and sends our local economy into a tailspin.

Right now, many Oregonians are working full time for profitable out-of-state corporations that pay so little, most of their employees actually qualify for food stamps and other forms of public assistance. Because these low-wage workers are forced to rely on public benefits to pay for necessities, taxpayers are effectively subsidizing these corporations to the tune of $1.7 billion every year.

Workers and small business owners across the state recognize that raising the minimum wage will boost our local economies. This is why they are standing up and telling their stories. Last month at a public hearing on minimum wage, dozens of workers shared the challenges that working for minimum wage has created for their families.

One of those workers is Luke from Eugene. Luke and his family rely on his income as a painter. To make sure they get by, he often works over 55 hours in a week. Luke arrived in Salem after a full day’s work covered in paint, sat before our committee, and told us that he is not seeking to be rich; he just wants to be able to afford the basics. Luke takes pride in his work — he told us that if he made just a little bit more, he’d be able to pay for his son to take jiu jitsu lessons. If he could make ends meet at 40 hours, he might even have time to drop his kid off every week.

We also heard from Neena Johnson, a Portland homecare worker and mother who works 60-80 hours a week and barely scrapes by. Because wages are so low, the company she works for sees incredibly high staff turnover. At times, clients are cared for by someone new every other week.

The challenges Luke and Neena face are the same as those facing hundreds of thousands of Oregonians struggling to make ends meet. Meanwhile, corporate CEOs are taking home record profits and taxpayers are subsidizing the safety net that helps low-income workers scrape by.

Raising the minimum wage is commonsense economics: every business’ employee is another business’ customer. When workers have enough money in their pockets to get by, small businesses see the difference with increased demand for services and products. We’re committed to increasing Oregon’s minimum wage this session for the small business owners in our communities and for Luke and Neena and the 589,000 other Oregon workers who can’t wait for a raise any longer. It’s time we stand together and take action to strengthen our state’s economy.

Rob Nosse is the state representative for House District 42, inner Southeast and Northeast Portland. He lives in Southeast Portland with his husband and two children.

Diane Rosenbaum is the state senator for Senate District 21, Southeast Portland and Milwaukie. She is also the Senate Democratic majority leader and led the successful 2002 campaign for Measure 25, which increased Oregon’s minimum wage and indexed the wage to inflation.

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