Arkansas increases minimum wage

Good news from Little Rock. Gov. Mike Huckabee signed legislation raising the state minimum wage to $6.25 per hour effective October 1st.

A progressive grassroots coalition, Give Arkansas a Raise Now, was pushing for a statewide November referendum on a constitutional amendment to raise the minimum wage, with the idea that it would then be harder for the legislature to change. According to the article, the Rev. Stephen Copley, chairman of the group, said they will now abandon their effort. Rev. Copley expressed his pleasant surprise with this latest development, saying "In our wildest dreams we never really imagined that we'd be sitting here today with an increase."

Arkansas joins Florida as the only two Southern states leading the way with higher minimum wages than the federal standard. Similar legislation is moving in the Tennessee General Assembly, and is currently awaiting approval by a House committee. Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen has indicated that he would sign it if passed. (A minimum wage bill passed in West Virginia, too, but it was watered down with amendments to only affect a small segment of workers.)

And, as Chris mentioned here last week, a group of progressive organizations including the Institute for Southern Studies has formed North Carolinians for Fair Wages to advocate raising the minimum wage in that state. The AP files this report on their press conference last week:

A coalition of advocacy groups, emboldened by House approval last year and victories in other states, urged the General Assembly on Wednesday to approve a minimum wage increase.

"Working a job should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it," said Barbara Zelter with the N.C. Council of Churches, one of at least 10 groups that have banded together to seek raising the minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $6.

The wage hasn't changed since 1997, but the House last August narrowly approved a bill to push it to $6 per hour.

North Carolinians for Fair Wages said an increase would mean raises for about 101,000 workers, about 3 percent of the state's work force.

One-third of them are full-time workers, the N.C. Justice Center estimates, so the minimum wage generates for them an annual income of $10,712, less than the federal poverty threshold of $13,200 for a two-person family.

With health insurance premiums continuing to soar and inflation cutting into the buying power of the minimum wage, no one can make it on such a salary, speakers said.

"The cost of living and the cost of surviving has steadily increased for people at the lowest part of the economic totem poll," said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Congress has failed to act on raising the minimum wage to help lift families out of poverty, so states across the U.S. are taking matters into their own hands. It appears to be an issue almost everyone agrees on, even in the conservative South.