Editor’s note: This guest commentary was provided by U.S. Senator Mark Pryor, who is running for re-election in 2014.
“Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields” – James 5:4
Here in Arkansas, we raise our kids to know the value of a hard day’s work. We hope and pray they take those lessons to heart, and that’s why we owe it to them that America continues to be a place where a good, honest job earns anyone enough to support a family.
This year, voters in Arkansas will have the opportunity to give hardworking families a raise by voting to increase the state’s minimum wage. Too many Arkansans today are working harder than ever, but with so many in low-wage jobs — some working two or even three — they’re falling further behind. Raising the minimum wage can begin to reverse this trend while protecting and strengthening Arkansas’s economic core: our working families.
We’ve come a long way since the worst of the great recession, when Wall Street’s recklessness savaged working families across our state and nation, and yet we still face some very real economic challenges. As we look for ways to focus on growing the middle class, instead of those at the very top, there’s no question that the best solutions are Arkansas solutions. That’s why I was the first elected official here in Arkansas to endorse this year’s ballot initiative to raise our state’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour.
There’s an old saying, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” By giving a raise to the nearly 170,000 Arkansans who make minimum wage, our economy will get a much needed shot in the arm. I hear from Arkansas business owners all the time, and one of their main concerns these days is demand for their products. Better wages for workers means increased sales for small business owners as families have a little more each month to plug back into the economy.
This minimum wage proposal is being led by a coalition of Arkansas faith leaders. Scripture, of course, teaches us many lessons about doing right by the working poor; if we seek a world where the poor will find pasture, we need to embrace common sense proposals like raising our state’s minimum wage. Arkansas has the third highest rate of working families living below the poverty line — 41 percent of our state. Keep in mind that raising the wage isn’t a government handout, and it doesn’t add a dime to our debt or deficits. Rather, it’s a market-based solution that helps hardworking families struggling to get by.
Now, Some in Washington, including President Obama, have recently called for raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10. While that might make sense for more affluent places like California or New York, I believe it could have a negative impact on employers’ ability to continue to provide jobs in a less wealthy state like Arkansas. I plan to oppose the President’s proposal in the Senate, and instead I’ll continue to push for our Arkansas ballot initiative, which empowers voters to decide this in November.
At $6.25 per hour, Arkansas’s minimum wage is one of the lowest in the nation. That’s why a gradual increase to $8.50 is supported by Republicans, Democrats, the business community and faith leaders across our state. To me, it’s just good old fashioned Arkansas common sense. In the coming months, I know we’ll see more elected officials here step up and endorse our minimum wage ballot initiative. I hope one of those is my opponent, Congressman Tom Cotton, who has thus far refused to weigh in or explain why he isn’t supporting this effort.
Unfortunately, it’s not the first time Congressman Cotton has been on the wrong side of an issue this important for hardworking Arkansans. He voted against paycheck fairness for women, affordable student loans, disaster aid and the Farm Bill. Mr. Cotton also voted to privatize Medicare, putting the health of our seniors in the hands of big insurance companies while raising Medicare’s eligibility age to 70.
The citizens of our state deserve a senator who’s looking out for Arkansas’s working families. I hope you’ll join me and the interfaith coalition in supporting this common sense effort to give Arkansans a raise. It’s the right thing to do, and the right time to get this done for the state we love.