$15 minimum wage tough sell

BILL IN CONGRESS — President Joe Biden wants Congress to enact a $15 per hour minimum wage. The current $7.25 per hour minimum has been raised in 29 states, and the other 21 states are still at $7.25.

What are the chances Congress will raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour by 2025? It’s probably a long shot at this point.

Congress has introduced the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 that would eventually raise the minimum to $15 by 2025, index it to median wages to protect against future erosion of the wage and phase out the $2.13 subminimum wage for tipped workers.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has tried to create a state minimum wage for five years without success, so it’s still $7.25 in this state. And all Edwards wanted to do was get the minimum to $10 per hour over a twoyear period.

We hear a lot about other states raising their minimum wages to $15 per hour, but the District of Columbia is the only place that has made it to that level. Other states are working to get to $15. Here are the highest minimum wages in other states, according to the U.S. Department of Labor:

California, $13 and $14, depending on the number of employees; Washington state, $13.69; Massachusetts, $13.50; New York, $12.50; Colorado, $12.32; Arizona and Maine, $12.15 each; and Connecticut, New Jersey and Oregon, all at $12.

The National Conference of State Legislatures said 29 states and D.C. currently have minimum wages above the federal $7.25 per hour. Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee don’t have a state minimum wage. They are among the 21 states that pay the federal minimum. Arkansas has the highest minimum wage among the southern states at $11 per hour.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, according to The Advocate, shows that just under half of workers — 48.7 percent — make less than $15 per hour.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) said the proposed $15 per hour increase would lift the wages of 32 million workers, the majority of whom work in essential and frontline industries. EPI said raising the minimum wage helps narrow the racial and gender gap since 23 percent of workers who would benefit are Black or Latina women.

The federal minimum wage has been at $7.25 since 2009 — the longest it has been unchanged since the minimum wage was established in 1938. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the first bill it was 25 cents per hour. Adjusted for inflation, that would be worth about $4.45 per hour today.

The minimum wage has been raised 22 times by 12 different presidents since it was first set in 1938, according to www.history.com. However, the effort to increase it has run into stiff opposition in recent years.

The new federal proposal mirrors an amendment approved by Florida voters in 2020 that raises the minimum to $15 by 2026. It goes to $10 this coming September and annual increases will take it to $15.

President Joe Biden made his $15 per hour minimum wage part of his proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus pandemic plan. However, it faces an evenly divided Congress with most Democrats favoring the increase and Republicans opposed.

The arguments Louisiana legislators have heard for the past four years never change. The Louisiana Budget Project that lobbies for poor and low-income citizens has backed a minimum wage increase every year. Jan Moller, LBP’s executive director, calls Biden’s plan “wonderful news and very long overdue.”

Jim Patterson and Dawn Starns have represented the major Louisiana opponents of raising the minimum wage. Patterson is vice president for governmental relations with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. Starns is senior state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Patterson argues that free markets should determine wage levels. The Advocate said he also disputed the notion that families routinely rely on minimum wage jobs to support themselves.

“The thing that gets lost in all the rhetoric is the minimum wage is not supposed to be a living wage,” Patterson said. “Generally, it is a training wage to give you an opportunity to get on the first rung of the ladder and then you can leverage yourself into a higher-level position.”

Starns said mandating a higher wage would force employers to decide whether to reduce the hours of employees or the number of employees. She said they would have to make a cut somewhere.

State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, and chairman-elect of the Legislative Black Caucus, said, “Many of America’s front-line workers — the men and women who keep our nation functioning — earn the minimum. Their work must be valued. Minimum wage workers keep us afloat, especially in times of crisis.”

Yes, the current minimum needs to be raised, but $15 is a big leap from $7.25 per hour. If the state’s Republican lawmakers had gone along with more modest increases — like those proposed by Gov. Edwards — there would be less emphasis on establishing a $15 per hour minimum.

Since Louisiana and 20 other states have not raised their minimum wage, the decision is now out of their hands and in the halls of Congress.

More from this section

  • Updated

Louisiana will be keeping an open primary system that elected a two-term governor who has helped restore fiscal sanity to the state budget and who has effectively directed the state’s responses to numerous weather emergencies and the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

  • Updated

Democratic President Joe Biden is coming to Lake Charles today to promote his $2 trillion plan to rebuild the nation’s bridges, highways, ports, railways and airports. While he’s here, you can be sure that local and state public officials will also be speaking with him about Southwest Louisi…

  • Updated

If reform of the state’s complicated tax code that was promised by Republican leaders of the Legislature isn’t dead, it appears to be on its last legs. A preview of the problem surfaced last week during a meeting of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

  • Updated

To borrow a phrase from comedian Steve Martin, it seems fair to say that the Louisiana Legislature is doing some “wild and crazy” things.

  • Updated

I have loved sandwiches most of my life, but sometimes I look forward to having a regular meal. That is what happened Tuesday, and what a remarkable evening it turned out to be.

  • Updated

BATON ROUGE — Members of the Republican-dominated Legislature have introduced a large number of bills lowering the state’s individual and corporate income taxes, but little has been said about reducing the 9.52 percent state and local sales tax rate that is the second highest in the country.