by Max Brantley
Ten states began the New Year with increases in their minimum wage rates. According to this article, 19 states and the District of Columbia now have minimum wages above the $7.25 federal rate.
Arkansas, of course, is not one of the states outpacing the federal minimum wage rate. Far from it. It's one of a handful of states that either pay below the federal minimum or — worse in the case of some Dixie brethren — have no minimum wage at all.
Arkansas last raised the state minimum wage in 2006, to $6.25 an hour, now $1 below the federal rate. It covers employees not covered by the federal rate. (Not very well, obviously.) Some employees are even exempt from that lower rate. Arkansas's chamber of commerce lobby (which controls the legislature generally) caved to the last increase in the face of a constitutional amendment drive that would have indexed the state rate to inflation. In retrospect, the forces for a decent wage shouldn't have caved.
A tipster tells me a Democratic legislator plans to introduce legislation this year to make the state minimum $8.25 an hour. I haven't reached him yet to confirm. I'd like to predict that the new Republican majority would be open to legislation that helps low-wage workers, but ....
UPDATE: Rep. Butch Wilkins of Bono confirms he plans to introduce this legislaton. It's simple. He'd increase the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour effective July 1.
As you know there are a lot of people out there that are in need of help. These are people who are working for a living and not asking for a lot of help. The economy seems to be improving and now seems like the right time.
... You may recall in the 09 session I voted against a minimum wage bill sponsored by Rep. Nickels. At that time I thought we were headed into a deep recession and was worried about a loss of jobs that could accompany that bill. I feel much better about the economy at this time.