Commentary

DC leads the way on minimum wage, will NC follow?

Washington, DC took an important step forward for workers last week, joining a growing number of states and cities that have raised the minimum wage. Meanwhile, workers in North Carolina continue to wait on the General Assembly to take positive steps to raise wages.

The capital city joins 17 states that have changed their minimum-wage laws since the start of 2014. The ordinance was adopted by the District Council earlier this month and will be formally signed into law by the city’s mayor in July. The schedule puts the city’s workers on a path to $15 an hour by 2020, with a gradual, phase-in that gives businesses time to adapt. And future increases will be tied to inflation, ensuring that the minimum wage will not lose purchasing power as costs rise over time.

The legislation isn’t perfect, of course—advocates have criticized it for failing to properly address tipped workers, whose minimum wage will only rise to $5 by 2020. A higher proposal from Mayor Muriel Bowser was rejected by the council but tipped workers will still see their wage rise with inflation. Despite this gap, the law is rightfully being celebrated as a major victory by national advocates.

Unfortunately, North Carolina’s workers can only wait for their own legislators to enact a wage increase. Here in North Carolina, a win for minimum wage advocates faces enormous obstacles. The Republican-controlled legislature has not only failed to make progress on this issue but is actively dragging the state in the wrong direction. The passage of HB2 has far-reaching consequences beyond restricting LGBTQ rights, removing basic worker protections and enabling discrimination by businesses. The bill also preempts municipalities from following DC’s example and acting to boost wages for public sector contractors.

Despite the unfounded claims that raising the minimum wage will reduce employment, empirical evidence shows otherwise: substantial, recent research detect little to no impact on employment when utilizing rigorous methodology. And the benefits to vulnerable workers are well documented:

 Raising the minimum wage puts more money in the pockets of those workers most likely to spend it. For example, boosting the wage floor to $10 an hour would affect approximately 1 million workers in North Carolina. And because of the boom in low-wage work, the vast majority of those North Carolinians benefiting from the wage increase are no longer the part-time, teen-aged workers who once filled the bulk of entry-level jobs in past generations. Now, more than 85 percent of those benefiting from a minimum wage increase are workers older than 20 years of age, and more than half work full-time.

While the recent federal overtime ruling marks a positive step for 425,000 middle-class workers in North Carolina, low-income workers have been severely neglected by state policymakers. Hopefully, the wage-boosting momentum generated by DC and other states and cities can contribute to a much-needed course change from the General Assembly.

 

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