Commentary, News

Minimum wage increases take effect in 21 states, but not NC

In case you missed it yesterday, reporter Richard Craver had a story in the Winston-Salem Journal about North Carolina’s increasingly obsolete minimum wage law. As Craver explains, numerous states raised their minimum wage yesterday, but not North Carolina, where stubborn right-wing ideologues at the General Assembly continue to say no.

Workers in 11 blue, five purple and five red states will receive a raise today by virtue of a state- or voter-mandated increase in their respective minimum hourly wages.

For the 10th consecutive year, North Carolina minimum-wage workers will not join them.

They remain at the federally mandated $7.25 an hour set in 2009, along with workers in 16 other states. Workers in the remaining states did not see an increase today, but were already above the federal minimum wage.

After explaining that about 8,000 state government workers recently saw a significant jump in their minimum wage to $15 per hour due to the action of the General Assembly, Craver explains that many more workers in the private sector are being left behind:

The 38,000 federal minimum wage workers in North Carolina are among 700,000 nationwide, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A full-time N.C. minimum-wage worker earns $15,080 per year — $1,000 less than the federal poverty level for 2016 for a family of one adult and one child.

An additional 52,000 North Carolinians make less than $7.25 because they work in the restaurant sector, where their compensation is often based more on customer tips.

Craver’s article goes on, frustratingly, to feature predictable quotes from a John Locke Foundation spokesperson that raising the minimum wage here will somehow harm the state’s “competitiveness.” (It should be noted that the Locke people have repeatedly argued down through the years that there should be no minimum wage law at all.)

Meanwhile, however, out in the real world, evidence continues to mount that the benefits of a higher wage outweigh any drawbacks. As CNN reported last fall:

Seattle has served as a national guinea pig for the policy since 2014, when its voted to gradually raise its minimum wage from $9.47 to $15.45 for large employers this year and $16 in 2019. The latest research, released Monday, shows that workers made more money despite getting fewer hours — but that experienced workers made out the best.

The study, conducted by economists at the University of Washington using state unemployment insurance data, found that the increase added about $10 per week on average to the earnings of low-income workers through 2016, even while reducing weekly hours slightly. But more experienced workers made $19 more per week, the research found, partly by making up for lost hours in Seattle at second jobs worked outside city limits.

In addition, employee turnover decreased, which the authors believe suggests that employers tried harder to retain their most productive staff members as wages went up. That’s a plus for existing workers, but potentially an obstacle for inexperienced or new workers trying to get that first line on their resume.

Indeed, the study showed that fewer new workers entered Seattle’s low-wage labor market compared to the rest of Washington. “Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance appears to have delivered higher pay to experienced workers at the cost of reduced opportunity for the inexperienced,” the study’s authors wrote.

Commentary, News

A look back at some of the stories that mattered in 2018

In case you missed them, be sure to check out the following Policy Watch news stories from 2018:

And here were some of our top radio interviews of 2018:

And, of course, no year-end review would be complete without highlighting some of the best editorial cartoons from the incomparable John Cole:

Happy New Year, y’all!

Commentary

Editorial calls for independent investigation of 9th Congressional District.

In case you missed it yesterday, a Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com argued persuasively that it’s time for Gov. Cooper and Attorney General Stein to launch a new and independent investigation into the electoral malfeasance in 9th Congressional District. This is the conclusion from the editorial:

The silence has been deafening from federal prosecutors. While the current U.S. Attorney Bobby Higdon has boasted of indicting 19 non-U.S. citizens with illegal voting in the state, there has been NO WORD on what if anything was done in response to [elections official Kim] Strach’s two-year-old plea….

Why didn’t state elections officials and these prosecutors, knowing there was REAL potential for election troubles, issue warnings to local elections officials? Why didn’t they make it a special point of highly visible emphasis to instruct local elections boards on proper handling of absentee ballots?

If merely a fraction of the energy that’s been put into the less-than-necessary-but-nice voter ID distraction, was directed to assuring absentee ballots were properly handled, North Carolina might have been able to certify the ONLY congressional election in the nation that remains unresolved.

This is no small matter. It should not wait until state or federal prosecutors get around to completing work on an investigation.

It would be nice if we could count on, and trust the General Assembly to look into this matter. But legislative leaders are more motivated to gain partisan advantage than assuring every eligible voter can vote, voting is not manipulated or abused, and all votes are fairly counted.

Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein need to bring together an independent, non-partisan panel to look into why there was no action to investigate the voting irregularities in Bladen and other southeastern North Carolina counties, identify REAL problems with current voting procedures and recommend common sense solutions to make sure our elections are clean and fair.

Commentary

Happy Holidays from NC Policy Watch

As the end of the year draws near, the NC Policy Watch team wants to express its gratitude to the thousands of loyal readers, listeners and viewers who have helped make this our most successful and impactful year ever. We pledge to redouble our efforts in 2019 to shine a light on (and help make sense of) the issues that matter in today’s challenging policy environment.

If you’d like to support our work with an end-of-the-year gift, we’d be honored and appreciative. Click here for more information.

Although Policy Watch will be publishing on a reduced schedule the next few days, we will still feature updates and reviews of 2018 over on the main Policy Watch site and here on The Progressive Pulse so please check back regularly.

Commentary, News

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

PLEASE NOTE: NC Policy Watch will not be sending daily emails next week, but we will continue to feature new content on the main Policy Watch website and The Progressive Pulse blog. Happy Holidays!

1. Meeting Gov. Cooper’s climate change mandate will take more than just turning out the lights. It will require a new way of thinking.

About five years ago, before the public widely knew that the world’s greenhouse gas emissions were tipping the climate over the point of no return, Alex Johnson, Durham’s urban forester, was weighing what trees to plant to replace the mass die-off of the city’s willow oaks. Those oaks, planted around the same time more than 80 years ago, were reaching the end of their natural lifespan at the same time. But Johnson knew that climate change would alter what species could survive protracted droughts, flash flooding and hotter summers.

Although at the time Durham lay within Hardiness Zone 7b, Johnson said, it might be more prudent to replant for Hardiness Zone 8 — a warmer climate. [Read more…]

** BONUS READS:

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2. GOP wants to shield investigations from public scrutiny; Cooper won’t go along

Governor calls on lawmakers to “fix” elections bill that would expand secrecy

“Democracy dies in darkness” isn’t a new phrase but it’s certainly one that has gotten a lot of attention during the Trump era. North Carolina Republicans, though, are apparently working from a different playbook, and they want to shut the lights off completely.

House Bill 1029, which is currently sitting on Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk, would make all State Board of Elections investigations confidential, effectively shutting the door to any public scrutiny, particularly when it comes to campaign finance violations. [Read more…]

**BONUS READ: Lawsuit filed as soon as voter ID becomes law in NC

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3. Documents: Federal prosecutors knew of Bladen County voting allegations, but took no action

Voting rights advocates say GOP priorities drove Trump appointee to ignore allegations, focus resources elsewhere

The State Board of Elections compiled evidence and interviews detailing a systematic ballot fraud operation in Bladen County two years ago, well before the current controversy that seems likely to force a new election in the 9th Congressional District race.

The board forwarded their information and a detailed summary to state and federal prosecutors, according to 278 pages on multiple investigations released by the state board this week.

No prosecutions resulted. [Read more…]

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4. In District 9, investigators should heed the truth, not the clock

Hope you made a wish on that shooting star.

I’m talking about that fleeting moment last week, when Democrats and reluctant Republicans seemed to agree on the need for a new election in North Carolina’s mud-varnished 9th Congressional District.

The Earth shook and the seas parted as politicos from both parties appeared to join hands, perhaps taking in the gathering evidence that a Republican operative may have hacked our election apparatus, piloting an alleged spider web of a get-out-the-vote campaign or perhaps more appropriately, a get-the-vote-out campaign, accused of illegally handling – or, worst-case scenario, destroying – thousands of absentee ballots. [Read more…]

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5. The GOP’s cynical electoral game playing rolls on

One can imagine a scenario in which it might be possible to take North Carolina Republican leaders seriously when they argue that a strict voter ID law is necessary to protect the “integrity” of North Carolina elections. If, for instance, those same leaders had long evinced support for rigorous integrity and transparency in all other key electoral circumstances – say, with respect to the way voting districts are drawn and the ways in which investigations of electoral and campaign finance malfeasance are conducted – the demands for voter ID would ring a lot less hollow.

To be clear, they would still be wrong; strict voter ID will not, ultimately, enhance the integrity of our elections. But at least Republicans and their conservative ideological allies could have maintained a colorable claim of intellectual honesty and consistency. [Read more…]

**BONUS READ: Trump’s biggest con job? Last year’s tax cuts have been an economic dud in North Carolina

6. This week’s editorial cartoon: