The Urban County Council soon must make time to hear testimony on a proposal to raise the minimum wage in Fayette County.
It's apparent that citizens want to discuss it; there was not enough time to hear from many who packed a committee meeting last week. And with that committee set to start budget deliberations and not scheduled to meet again until late June — followed by a council break — it could be fall before the issue gets back on the agenda.
That doesn't make sense, especially after recent city investments in efforts to reduce homelessness and provide more affordable housing. Finding ways to ensure a full-time worker earns more than $15,000 a year in Fayette — where 20 percent live below the poverty line — is crucial to those efforts.
Considering the years it took city officials to make affordable housing and homelessness priorities, it is understandable that advocates for the poor worry the council just wants to stall the discussion.
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A minimum-wage increase, which passed the state House but not the Senate last year, is the top voter issue in this year's gubernatorial race, according to a recent Bluegrass Poll. A majority want it raised from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, and 46 percent said cities and counties should have the right to make that decision.
Louisville's increase to $9 an hour over three years begins July 1. And although it is being challenged in court, the attorney general's office refused to counter the county attorney's ruling that the city had the legal right to raise it.
Lexington's proposed ordinance, sponsored by council member Jennifer Mossotti, would increase the minimum wage from the federal rate of $7.25 an hour to $8.20 an hour on July 1m $9.15 in July 2016, and $10.10 in July 2017. After that, the increase would be tied to the consumer price index.
The minimum for tipped workers, now $2.13 an hour, would increase to $2.41 July 1, $2.73 in 2016 and $3.09 in 2017. Kentucky has not raised that rate since 1991.
Research provided to the council committee by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy destroys the myth that those earning low wages are mainly young people living at home. Among the 31,000 people in Fayette County now making less than $10.10 an hour:
■ 90 percent are older than 20. More are older than 50 than are teenagers.
■ 57 percent are women.
■ 76 percent live below the poverty level.
■ 26 percent have a child living in the household.
Among tipped workers:
■ 46 percent rely on public assistance.
■ Servers are three times as likely as other workers to live in poverty.
The majority of people who would benefit from a higher minimum wage work in retail, food service, hotels and motels. Low prices for those of us who can shop, eat out or stay in hotels should not be subsidized by the public assistance too many workers rely on, or the poverty their families experience.
There is an ongoing debate about whether city or county minimum wage hikes — increasingly common due to inaction in Washington and at statehouses — reduce employment or damage local economies. So, let's have that debate and weigh the evidence.
Some argue we should wait until a court challenge to Louisville's increase is resolved. That could be a long time. Fayette County has a history of progressive legislation that leads the state and nation. That happened with the urban services boundary, the smoking ban, the fairness ordinance and the focus on reducing homelessness and providing more affordable housing.
We are not in the habit of waiting to make our community a better place. We shouldn't wait now.