July 24 marks exactly six years since Congress raised the minimum wage from $6.55 to a paltry $7.25 per hour. While the minimum wage has been stuck in the mud, the Consumer Price Index has gained 10.8 percent.
Bottom-line: inflation continues to eat away at the already meager wages of minimum wage workers, who are treading water from paycheck to paycheck at best and sinking under the heavy weight of unpaid bills and debt at worst.
Here in North Carolina, about one-third of all jobs, including those in Orange County, are in the low-wage sector. A full-time, minimum wage worker earns $15,080 per year. To put that in perspective, the federal poverty line for a family of four is $23,850.
These are not just teenagers flipping burgers for a little spending money on weekends. The Economic Policy Institute found that the average age of minimum wage workers is 35 and 88 percent are at least 20. Their contributions to household income are significant: the typical minimum wage worker brings home half of the household’s earnings. About one-quarter of these employees are parents trying to raise their children on poverty wages.
It’s time to reward their hard work with a living wage of at least $12/hour, so that those who toil in our stores and restaurants can afford to live in our neighborhoods.
Better pay reduces absenteeism and turnover – the two biggest drags on business productivity. place_fact1
A living wage is also good for business and its bottom-line. Better pay reduces absenteeism and turnover – the two biggest drags on business productivity. And, the workers who stay on the job tend to be more educated and skilled, according to Dr. William Lester, a UNC-Chapel Hill professor who specializes in this field.
Finally, a minimum wage hike would be a shot-in-the-arm for the economy. Low-wage workers spend nearly every dollar they earn on basic goods and services. According to Economic Policy Institute, raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour would increase the paychecks for North Carolina’s workers by $2 billion a year and the boost in consumer spending would create as many as 5,000 new jobs. $12 would be even better.
Because N.C. law prevents local governments from setting minimum wages for the private sector, special kudos go to Orange County, the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, plus the two school districts for guaranteeing their local government employees at least $12 to 14/hour starting several years ago. Many businesses and nonprofits in the area also play living wages.
Raising the minimum wage in North Carolina and the nation would be good for workers, businesses, and the economy. Let’s let our elected officials know that it’s time for a raise so that we can turn this date in 2016 into a happy one.
Dick Chady is a communications professional and advocate for progressive causes. He lives in Chapel Hill.