State House members had the right idea recently when they voted to raise North Carolina’s minimum wage for the first time in eight years. To boost its support, the wage increase was balanced with a tax credit for small businesses providing health insurance. That also helps low-wage workers who badly need health care coverage.
But the Senate had the wrong idea by larding up the minimum-wage bill with a cut in the corporate income tax and other tax measures. The bill still awaits Senate action, but an earlier effort to tuck the tax cuts into the state budget bill failed, and justly so. It’s the personal budgets of the working poor that the minimum wage intends to address, and raising it deserves senators’ votes on its own merits.
For starters, a raise from $5.15 an hour to $6 an hour will help more than 100,000 people in this state. Most are not teenagers working summer jobs, but adults working in retail, sales or services.
In 2004 dollars, those folks are earning 12 percent less than they did when Congress set the minimum where it is today. Meantime, the price of gasoline has skyrocketed, increasing the cost of holding down a job. A society that values its work ethic needs to nurture it from time to time.
Fears that an 85-cent pay hike for 100,000 people will dry up jobs in a state of 8 million are overblown. Neither the 1990-91 federal minimum wage hike nor the 1996-97 raise caused significant job losses, researchers with the Economic Policy Institute found. In fact, North Carolina’s senators could find in that research more reason to raise the minimum than to turn their backs on thousands of hard-working people.