Minimum Wage Proposals Spark Disagreement

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Mar. 10, 2014 12:00 am  

The Rev. Steve Copley, chair of Give Arkansas a Raise Now, said increasing the state’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour will help more than 168,000 Arkansas workers.  Montine McNulty, executive director of the Arkansas Hospitality Association, said that if the minimum wage rises, restaurant owners would have two choices: lay off workers or raise the menu prices. (Photo of Copley by Jason Burt)

Despite the debate, the push for increasing the minimum wage is gaining momentum across the country.

In November, voters in New Jersey approved raising that state's minimum wage by $1 to $8.25 an hour, making it the fourth state to increase its minimum wage in 2013, according to a news release from Raise the Minimum Wage, which is a division of the National Employment Law Project.

Arkansas is one of only nine states that have a minimum wage below the federal rate. Another 21 states have a minimum wage above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Impact on Low-Wage Workers

It’s unclear how many Arkansans make exactly $6.25 an hour. For an employer to pay that rate, one of the criteria is that the business can’t have more than $500,000 in annual revenue.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed Arkansas had 49,000 workers out of 746,000 hourly workers who were paid the federal minimum wage or below it in 2011, which are the latest figures available. Arkansas’ total workforce is about 1.14 million.

But increasing the minimum wage also raises wages for workers who make slightly more than the current minimum but less than the proposed new minimum. Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families of Little Rock said that raising Arkansas’ minimum wage to $8.50 would help more than 168,000 workers.

“The majority of people who would benefit from a minimum wage increase are not teenagers working part time to earn extra spending money in their free time,” Eleanor Wheeler, the senior policy analyst for AACF, wrote in a January report. About 85 percent of the workers who would see their minimum wage rise are 20 years old or older, Wheeler wrote.

“In fact, most workers who would see change from this legislation work mid- to full-time jobs and are at least 30 years old,” she wrote.

Rich Huddleston, executive director for AACF, said raising the minimum wage also would benefit businesses by lowering employee turnover and improving productivity.

Rev. Copley, who is leading the charge to increase the wage, agreed with Huddleston that the workers would be happier with the higher hourly wage and be more productive.

Copley said he is working on collecting about 62,500 valid signatures by July 7 to get the proposal on the ballot in November. He said he expects the campaign to cost about $300,000.



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