In the next few weeks, the Urban County Council will consider a proposed ordinance to raise the minimum wage. The proposal is to raise the minimum for all workers from $7.25 today to $10.10 over three years, with increases tied to the Consumer Price Index after that. Tipped worker wages would rise from $2.13 to $3.09.
For the past few months, we've spent time talking to and about minimum and low-wage workers, and have researched the subject. We have concluded that these are the two most persuasive points in favor of the increase.
■ Taxpayers subsidize businesses that pay low wages. Pretty much every low-wage worker we've spoken to or heard about was eligible for Medicaid, and had received food stamps and temporary assistance for needy families. They said they could not make it — get shelter, food, health care and transportation — without this help. As wages rise, these workers receive fewer benefits and pay more taxes.
Restaurant owners hold out the horror of higher menu prices under a minimum wage increase. But we taxpayers are compelled to subsidize today's prices, whether we take advantage of them or not. If wages rise, and prices with them, we can choose whether to eat out and what to order.
■ A recurring theme in talks with low-wage workers was a sense of being stuck — that just paying the bills left little time, energy or cash to go back to school or job training, or start a small business on the side. They often work odd, uncertain and long hours, and have unreliable transportation, all of which makes it hard to look for and interview for a better job. One waiter said he relies so much on bringing home cash each night to pay bills that it's daunting to think about the transition to a salaried job, with a wait of two or three weeks for that first paycheck.
Raising the minimum wage in Fayette County from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 over three years won't end poverty here. But it will transfer some of the cost of doing business from taxpayers to owners, and it will provide a little breathing room, a few more dollars at the end of the week, perhaps even a little hope, for thousands of hard-working people.