North Carolina's capital city newspaper calls for an increase this year
"North Carolina’s refusal to increase its minimum wage is beginning to look as heartless and thoughtless as its refusal to expand Medicaid," says The News & Observer in an editorial that rejects as unfounded the canard that raising the wage will hurt businesses or employment and says keeping it at $7.25 "doesn’t improve the state’s economy and only protects jobs barely worth having."
Twenty-nine states, more than half the nation, now have a state minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. North Carolina is not one of them.
That should change this year, especially this year. This is a state where the Republican-led General Assembly has handed out billions of dollars in tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations. Those cuts have now been followed by even more generous federal tax cuts that favor big companies and the top 1 percent of earners. If this isn’t the time for North Carolina to give the working poor a break, it never will be.
State Rep. Bob Steinburg, an Edenton Republican who sits on the legislature’s Commerce and Job Development Committee, said the state and federal tax cuts and the strong economy make this “an opportune time” to consider a higher state minimum wage.
“There may be some room to move it,” he said.
North Carolina’s refusal to increase its minimum wage is beginning to look as heartless and thoughtless as its refusal to expand Medicaid. Sticking with the federal minimum wage doesn’t improve the state’s economy and only protects jobs barely worth having. A full-time minimum-wage employee working 40 hours per week, 52 weeks a year would earn $15,080 a year. That’s just above the federal poverty level of $12,060 for an individual. For a family of four, the poverty level is $24,600.
Not only is the minimum wage barely above poverty level, it’s shrinking. Since it was last increased in 2009, the federal minimum wage has lost about 10 percent of its purchasing power to inflation. In the Triangle and other fast-growing parts of the state that erosion is even greater as the cost of living climbs faster than the national average.
Last March, state Sen. Joyce Waddell, along with other Senate Democrats proposed legislation that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020 and to $15 per hour by 2022. Thereafter, the minimum wage would be indexed to inflation.
Waddell said at a news conference on the bill that more than two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women, many of them supporting families.
“The state’s current minimum wage does not provide enough income for impoverished families to survive on,” she said. “We must free our hard-working citizens from the cycle of poverty. Women should be able to afford necessities and experience economic independence.”
The bill, of course, went nowhere, but the need it addressed is clearer than ever.
At the state and federal level, tax cuts have further enriched the wealthy. Now is the time to help those workers on the bottom rung whose pay shrinks with every year it goes without an increase.