Report: One-fourth of state’s labor pool would benefit from minimum wage hike

by Wesley Brown ( 417 views 

A report released Wednesday (Sept. 19) by the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) makes the case that one-fourth of the state’s workforce would benefit from the Issue 5 ballot proposal that would raise the minimum wage from the current level of $8.50 per hour to ultimately $11 in 2021.

According to the report, the wage hike would help improve the financial stability of tens of thousands of Arkansas families earning low wages who are still struggling to make ends meet despite the growing economy and low unemployment. (Link here for a PDF of the report.)

“The increase would be a great first step in reducing our state’s high child poverty rate and giving children a better start in life,” said AACF Executive Director Rich Huddleston, citing data from the Census Bureau that 22.5% of Arkansas children live in families with incomes below the poverty line.

In its brief 12-page report, AACF notes that like the federal minimum wage, which has remained at $7.25 an hour since 2009, the Arkansas wage standard doesn’t go up with inflation or worker productivity.

“So, it’s up to the Legislature and voters to periodically increase it. Arkansans have been increasing the state minimum wage at least once a decade since it was enacted in the late 1960s,” AACF states. “When we go too long without increasing the minimum wage, or we don’t increase it enough, inflation eats away at real income, and families fall into poverty — especially black and Hispanic families.”

On Aug. 16, Secretary of State Mark officials certified that the voter referendum to raise the minimum wage had the required 67,887 signatures to be put on the Nov. 6 ballot. Supporters, led by sponsor and Little Rock attorney David Couch, initially submitted 113,160. If voters approve the act in November, the state’s hourly minimum wage would increase from the current $8.50 to $9.25 in 2019, $10 in 2020, and $11 in 2021.

A Sept. 5-7 Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College poll showed that 60% of those surveyed favored Issue 5, with 30% against, and 10% Don’t Know.

Two weeks ago, Arkansans for a Strong Economy filed a petition with the Arkansas Supreme Court asking that Issue 5 be removed from the fall ballot. The group, which is backed by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, argued once invalid petitions and signatures are removed from the count, proponents of the measure will have failed to collect the number of valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

“Arkansas law is clear about what’s required of sponsors and canvassers who gather signatures to put a measure on the ballot, and the law is clear about what all a petition must include for the signatures to be counted as valid,” said Randy Zook, chairman of Arkansans for a Strong Economy.

Couch, who helped organize the minimum wage proposal group Arkansans for a Fair Wage, said the state chamber’s lawsuit only speaks for big business and corporate special interests — “not the health care workers, classroom aides, and waitresses who Initiative 5 will help.”

“Arkansas voters deserve the chance to vote up or down on a wage increase this November. Arkansans for a Fair Wage will defend our petitions and the voters who signed them,” said Couch, the campaign’s legal counsel. “We are confident that we have more than enough valid signatures to remain on the ballot in November.”

AACF officials said many parents are the sole breadwinners in their households and a boost in the minimum age would help those and nearly 155,000 Arkansas children with at least one working adult in the home. In Arkansas, parents would comprise 27% of the workers impacted by the minimum wage increase.

“Every voter knows someone who will benefit from the minimum wage increase, whether it’s an immediate family member, a relative, a neighbor, or a friend,” said Huddleston. “Despite the positive impacts the minimum wage increase would have on the lives of our children and families, I have no doubt that those who oppose it will try to misrepresent who will benefit from the increase, but the data in this study about who benefits is clear.”

According to the AACF report, the total cumulative increase in wages to low-income workers by 2021 will be over $455 million. Because the wages will go to low-income employees, the dollars will be more likely to be spent locally, boosting local economies.