If you work hard, you shouldn't live in poverty. A simple idea, it seems, but for millions of workers wages have stagnated or are in decline, and Congress refuses to raise the floor by increasing the federal minimum wage.
So it was a breath of fresh air when, last week, North Carolina's State Treasurer -- a moderate Democrat named Richard Moore -- declared the state should boost its minimum wage by $1, following the lead of 17 other state that have a minimum wage higher than the federal standard.
Better yet, he said it before a meeting of North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, which has led the opposition to raising the state's wages. Today, Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch clears away some of the typical excuses for keeping wages low:
Despite claims to the contrary, three-fourths of the people who would benefit are 20 or older and half are over 25. Adults earn the minimum wage, not just teenagers. An adult who has a child and works full-time at the current minimum wage of $5.15 an hour is living in poverty, earning well below the federal poverty level for a family of two.
Studies show that an increase in the wage does not cause job loss and a 2004 report found that small businesses in states with a higher minimum wages than the federal government had more small business growth than states without a higher wage. Nine out of 10 of the small businesses surveyed in 1999 by the Jerome Levy Economics said the last minimum wage increase did not effect their employment or hiring decisions.
Moore's announcement has jump-started a debate that raged in the state leg last year, resulting in a bill to boost the minimum by 85 cents and provide small business tax credits to cover the costs of benefits. As Fitzsimon notes, the bill is now alive in the Senate, though Democrats in the Senate Finance Committee voted to add a host of regressive tax cuts to the plan.
But momentum is building. Over the last few days, several newspaper editorials championed a wage increase. The fact that many low-wage workers are forced onto government programs like Medicaid and children's health insurance make it a fiscally responsible move. Over 100,000 workers in NC would benefit from a hike.
The evidence -- and the moral high ground -- is clearly on the side of those wanting an increase. So the question is, will powerful interests or good policy carry the day in North Carolina this year?
Hundreds of thousands of Tar Heel working families want to know.