Local News

Minimum Wage Debate Affects Few, But Attracts Attention

Posted May 10, 2006

— North Carolina's minimum wage may get a boost. Lawmakers are considering two proposals that would be the first increase in nine years.

But some critics say it's not the government's job to set wages. They say the basic rules of economics, supply and demand, should dictate how much people earn.

Ivan Goodson has been satisfying the sweet cravings of his customers for 14 years. But he said raising the minimum wage would definitely cut in to his bottom line.

"A lot of businesses feel this way," said Goodson. "They're in the same situation I'm in. They have a certain percentage that they have to meet at the end of the month, and it's not going to happen if it goes up to that rate."

The proposals would enact either an 85-cent hike or a $1 increase. This wouldn't affect many workers -- out of about 4 million workers in North Carolina, approximately 100,000 earn $5.15 an hour. That's less than 2.5 percent of the workforce.

"We're talking about an artificial rate that most people earn beyond anyway," said Sen. Richard Stephens, R-Wake.

Many service jobs, including fast food restaurants, already pay more than $5.15. So why the opposition if it affects so few people? It appears to be an issue of principle.

"The free marketplace should determine what wages companies choose to pay their employees based on supply and demand, not government artificially setting wages at any particular level," said Stephens.

But some nonprofit groups disagree.

"It's really timely now, because more and more adults that are primary bread winners for their families are having to work minimum wage jobs as they lose manufacturing jobs," said Sorien Schmidt, with the North Carolina Justice Center.

Goodson said that for his business, it's young people who are younger than 16 who make minimum wage.

"I understand that you can't live off of $5.15, and the people I employ don't intend to live off that," said Goodson.

But there are those who do, and some lawmakers say it's the government's responsibility to help them.

Even with a $1 increase in the minimum wage, leaders with the North Carolina Justice Center point out people would still earn less than the federal poverty level. They say the increase is not nearly enough, but it's a good start.

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