Are efforts to raise the minimum wage a benefit to Baton Rouge low-wage workers or a distraction?
A new report from the Louisiana Budget Project estimates 63,000 Baton Rouge workers would get a pay raise this year if the Louisiana Legislature raises the state minimum wage to $8.50.
The report, released today from the left-leaning LBP, depicts how workers across Louisiana would benefit if legislators do away with a state law that forbids local control of minimum wage ordinances.
Currently, minimum wage workers in Louisiana earn the federal standard of $7.25 per hour. Efforts in the state Legislature to raise the minimum wage—a key policy priority of Gov. John Bel Edwards—have so far been unsuccessful. Late last month, a House labor committee killed a proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The Senate killed a similar bill to raise the wage to $8.50 by 2020.
“An hour of hard work should be worth more than $7.25. Louisiana workers deserve better,” says Jeanie Donovan, LBP policy director. “The Legislature’s refusal to raise the minimum wage has left tens of thousands of working families living below the poverty line. If our elected officials can’t agree to a statewide minimum wage, the least they can do is let their constituents decide at the ballot by passing Senate Bill 252.”
The bill, by Sen. Troy Carter, proposes a constitutional amendment to establish a state minimum wage of no less than $8 per hour on Aug. 1, 2019, for employers with 50 or more workers. The minimum wage would rise to $8.50 per hour on Aug. 1, 2020. If approved, voters will decide the amendment in November.
The budget project says Louisiana has the highest percentage of workers earning at or below the federal minimum wage. Boosting the wage would lift more Louisianans into the middle class and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the state’s economy.
More Baton Rouge workers—81,000—would benefit if the minimum wage rises to $10 in 2019, the LBP says. And 108,000 could take home bigger paychecks if the wage is pushed to $12 per hour in 2020.
Opponents of the minimum wage bills—which include the Louisiana chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry—contend that increasing the minimum wage would result in higher prices for consumers and squeeze employers.
“The minimum wage argument is a distraction from more meaningful solutions that will truly lift our people out of poverty, like increasing training and educational opportunities for Louisiana’s workforce coupled with attracting better jobs with high salaries and good benefits,” Renee Amar, LABI’s director of small business, says. “The answer is not to squeeze dollars out of employers for entry-level jobs, but to bring more high-value jobs to our state and truly prepare our citizens for employment.”