Sunday, March 17, 2013 11:49 PM
Bill would tie N.C. minimum wage to inflation
Davis, Bryant introduce measure to boost N.C. wages
By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor
Two local lawmakers want to give North Carolina’s poorest workers a raise.
State Sens. Don Davis and Angela Bryant have introduced a bill to tie the state minimum wage to inflation as measured by the consumer price index. Wages would be adjusted to keep pace with inflation on Jan. 1 of each year.
"I think it’s important to look at ways to help families in terms of expanding the middle class, moving toward a livable wage and improving quality of life,” said Davis, a Democrat from Snow Hill. "What we know is over time, the prices have increased for the same items that we’re paying for today. Families are getting less for the same dollar when inflation occurs.”
Davis and Sen. Earline Parmon, a Winston-Salem Democrat, are Senate Bill 220’s primary sponsors. Bryant, a Rocky Mount Democrat whose district includes north-central Wilson County, signed on as a co-sponsor.
Bryant did not return messages seeking comment in time for this story.
"The economy has been sluggish, and even in the midst of the sluggish economy, we’ve seen some increase in terms of inflation,” Davis said.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages higher than the $7.25 federal minimum. The highest wage is in Washington state, where workers must be paid at least $9.19 per hour.
President Barack Obama proposed boosting the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour during his Feb. 12 State of the Union address, but that initiative faces opposition in the Republican-controlled U.S. House.
Conservatives say boosting the minimum wage would lead to higher unemployment as companies lay off entry-level workers whose jobs don’t produce enough revenue to compensate for their pay. The Raleigh-based John Locke Foundation fought a 2006 proposal to set the state minimum wage $1 higher than the federal wage floor.
"Basic economics says that wages are tied to worker productivity,” Dr. Roy Cordato of the John Locke Foundation said in a 2006 statement. "Forcing employers to pay one dollar more would also force them to turn away more unskilled workers who couldn’t be productive enough to earn one dollar more.”
Cordato called the premise that raising the minimum wage would help low-skilled workers "a cruel hoax” and predicted that employers would consolidate or eliminate many entry-level positions.
Senate Bill 220 seeks to prevent job loss by allowing companies to pay full-time students, learners, apprentices and messengers 90 percent of the state minimum wage.
The bill also would allow the state labor commissioner to "establish a wage less than the wage rate in effect…which may apply to persons whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by age or physical or mental deficiency or injury.”
Six states — Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — have minimum wages tied to the consumer price index, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some critics say that index shows artificially low inflation because it excludes volatile gas and food prices.
"It may not be perfect, but it’s just acknowledging that inflation is occurring in our economy,” Davis said. "Families are having to stretch their dollars already.”
State Rep. Alma Adams, a Greensboro Democrat, has introduced a companion bill in the North Carolina House. Davis knows both bills face an uphill climb with Republican majorities in the House and Senate and Republican Pat McCrory in the governor’s mansion.
"How far it will go is quite uncertain at this point,” Davis said. "However, it’s still promoting the thought of heading toward a living wage. We have to be very mindful of our public policy and the steps we’re taking. We have to continue to talk about how to make the economy grow and how to do things to stimulate economic growth.”
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