Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, has introduced a bill that would raise the minimum wage. File photo Drew C. Wilson / Times
By Drew C. Wilson
Times Staff Writer
The sponsor of an act to raise the minimum wage said Friday she doesn’t believe the bill will ever come to a vote.
Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, introduced Senate Bill 210, which seeks to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by the year 2022, on March 8.
“I would doubt that we would be able to get to a vote,” Bryant said Friday. “We are going to see if we can just get a hearing in a committee. A committee hearing would be a major accomplishment, but I definitely don’t think we can get a vote in the legislature.”
The bill would phase in the wage hike in a series of stages.
The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour, which many say is not sufficient for workers to pay the bills, leaving many at or below the poverty level. SB 210 proposes to begin raising the wage on Jan. 1, 2018, to $8.80, then in 2019 to $10.35. In 2020, the wage would be raised to $12 per hour, then in 2021, to $13.50.
Once the wage has been raised to $15 in 2022, it would increase automatically with increases of the Consumer Price Index as calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Bryan said it’s an uphill battle for the minimum wage bill to advance at this point.
“We think that it is important to keep the issue alive,” Bryant said. “We hope it will force those people who do not want to raise the minimum wage to also see the importance of providing work supports for people if they are going to keep them at the minimum wage, like child care subsidy, pre-K for their children and families and health care.”
For a minimum-wage worker, the amount of money brought home at the end of the day is $58 — and that’s before taxes.
“They can barely afford food,” Bryant said. “There is no way to sustain a family on that.”
“Some people don’t even remember what the minimum wage is, it’s so far from their earning capacity, so it’s also important to remind those who are earning so much more what it is like to have to live on that amount per day,” Bryant said. “You have got middle-aged adults living on $60 a day, and it’s not a living wage.”
Raising the minimum wage is also a women’s issue, according to Bryant.
More than two-thirds of workers earning the minimum wage in North Carolina are women, according to the North Carolina Justice Center.
The group says three out of four women would directly benefit from raising the minimum wage to $12, and that 260,000 of those who would benefit are working mothers, 127,000 of whom are single mothers. More than half, or about 54 percent, are people of color.
Allan Freyer, director of workers’ rights for the North Carolina Justice Center, said raising the minimum wage is good for workers, businesses and the overall economy.
“Our economy does best when everyone can earn enough money to afford the basics, put food on the tables, gas in the car, their kids in day care and a roof over their head. when they can afford the basics they are able to afford to spend money at local businesses, and when they spend more money, businesses see higher sales, bigger profits and ultimately better job creation,” Freyer said. “It creates thriving communities in which everyone is able to contribute to the strength of the economy.”
Keeping the wage low is “basically creating a permanent caste system that has a generational effect,” Bryant said. “To me, there needs to be some balance.”
Jesse Raudales, job developer at the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Wilson, said making ends meet with a job that pays $7.25 is extremely difficult.
“You can’t raise a family off of $7.25. It’s just impossible. The person is handicapped by not being able to progress and elevate and help their family,” Radaules said.
Some 29 other states have opted to raise rates above the $7.25 mark.
“Other states that have done so, obviously they want to improve their economy and they see the future. They see that you cannot live off of $7.25. No one can,” Raudales said. “If you have a child, it’s worse. Maybe if you are a teenager and you are living at home with your parents, you can live off of $7.25, but it is extremely hard to just imagine making that kind of money as an adult and trying to raise a family.”
Raudales said he gives a minimum wage increase a 50-50 chance of being signed into law.
Freyer is more optimistic.
“Raising the minimum wage is popular in North Carolina and popular across the country,” said Freyer. “Every state that has put a minimum wage increase on the ballot has won. Our hope is that in North Carolina, our legislators will actually wake up and pay attention to the people that they claim to represent and pass this bill as soon as possible.”
Raudales said he would like to see a higher jump in that first year — higher than $8.80.
“I would like to see it higher, maybe $10, but I would say that any type of progress is good for us here in Wilson,” Radaules said. “I am glad to see that someone is moving forward and pushing for that. That’s good news. That’s positive news.”
In the last seven months, Raudales said he has helped place 326 people in jobs.
“We have about 75 percent of our people that are above the minimum wage, which means they are making anywhere from $9, $10 or $12 an hour. But that other 25 percent is making minimum wage,” Raudales said. “I am just glad somebody is thinking ahead and trying to do something positive for the community.”
“Part our goal is to keep reminding those who are earning more of that fact and encourage them to take a stand for raising the minimum wage, which, of course, has 70-some percent of support in the population,” said Bryant.
Bryant is planning public hearings in Raleigh and around the state to educate people on the issue.
“We’re going to keep fighting,” Bryant said. “We still have too many people who aren’t earning a living wage.”