Legislators want to give poor a raise
Supporters and opponents of a bill sponsored by Rep. Alma Adams, a Democrat from Greensboro, that would dramatically raise North Carolina’s minimum wage had their say in an NC House Commerce Committee hearing on May 18.
Adams’ bill, named the Living Wage Act, would increase the state’s minimum wage by a dollar every year until it reached $8.50 in September 2007. Minimum wage in North Carolina is currently pegged to the national standard at $5.15 per hour.
Rep. Bruce Goforth, a Democrat from Asheville who is a co-chair of the Commerce Committee, said committee members listened to testimony for and against the bill. A committee vote had not been scheduled at press time. Goforth, who supports the bill, said he expects a compromised version of the bill to go to the floor of the House for a full vote.
Democratic Rep. Maggie Jeffus of Greensboro, a member of the Commerce Committee and a co-sponsor of the bill, said voters across the state have expressed support for a minimum wage raise by a wide majority in e-mail messages.
‘“It seems logical to me: minimum wage has not gone up in a number of years and the cost of living has escalated,’” she said. ‘“If anyone would ever experience trying to live off this amount of money, if you have a family, I think it would be very difficult. I’m hoping that these small businesses will try to work something out.’”
One of the Commerce Committee’s other co-chairs, Rep. Bill Daughtridge ‘— a Republican from Rocky Mount who owns a number of convenient stores ‘— opposes the raise.
Among the bill’s supporters are the NC Council of Churches, which represents more than a dozen Christian denominations; and the NC Justice Center, a state anti-poverty organization. The legislation’s opponents include the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which claims to represent 15,000 small businesses in the state, and the NC Restaurant Association.
‘“We as a state and nation do not need to have our boot on the neck of the lowest-paid workers in order to have a functioning economic system,’” the Council’s Barbara Zelter told the Committee. ‘“We hope you, especially those who share the Judeo-Christian faith tradition, agree, and pass HB 330 out of this committee, onto the floor of this building, and into the paychecks of our North Carolina families.’”
A raise in the minimum wage would be a jobs-killer, counters Greg Thompson, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
‘“Every year our members are overwhelmingly opposed to the increase in the minimum wage,’” he said. ‘“With the increase in workers compensation, the increase in health insurance and more government regulation, a lot of [small businesses] are fighting for survival. They understand that it’s hard for some people to live on minimum wage, whereas they are providing jobs for them where they might not have a job at all.’”
Sorien Schmidt, legislative director of the NC Justice Center, said, to the contrary, a raise in the state minimum wage would generate economic activity in rural jobs-poor areas.
‘“They have needs that are going unmet,’” she said. ‘“As soon as these employees get more income, they go and spend it, often in these places where other low-wage workers are employed. Absenteeism is down when people make better wages because they have fewer crises. Productivity goes up.’”
Schmidt added that studies of state minimum wage increases over the past 25 years have shown no net change in employment levels.
Not surprisingly, the NFIB has also reviewed some studies.
‘“I cannot cite you the source of the studies, but I have seen studies that if the minimum wage were increased, by each increment how many job losses that would create,’” Thompson said. ‘“Florida just passed a dollar increase. I have read that it has caused some job losses. They are having problems with small businesses being able to keep people employed.’”
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