A recent article stated that the Urban County Council will be unable to consider increasing the minimum wage locally (as Louisville just did) because they are too busy trying to resolve a dispute over federal workforce dollars.
Really? When does any one issue prevent the council from doing its job on other matters? And how does control over the allocation of federal funding for much-needed job-training programs prevent the council from ensuring that private-sector employers pay decent wages?
The current wage of $7.25 is now so low in purchasing power it is impossible to sustain any kind of decent living, even when working 40 hours per week, which few minimum-wage employers grant. As costs continue to rise, low-wage workers are particularly impacted as their earnings remain tied to a rate that has been frozen since 2009. Before that, it was unchanged for nearly 10 years. After adjusting for inflation, the buying power of the minimum wage was at its peak in 1968 at $10.74. Since then, the minimum wage has lost a third of its value.
This loss in purchasing power is most threatening to families when compared to the rising costs of renting an apartment in Lexington. A 2014 study commissioned by the city found that local housing costs have been rising faster than wages for decades. The study noted that 87 percent of all rental housing units in Lexington were affordable to households working at the minimum wage in 1990 but only 17 percent were affordable to such families by 2012.
Because the federal minimum wage was never indexed to inflation, increases require new legislation each time. Political posturing poisons these debates and increasing gridlock at the federal level has forced many state and local governments to independently increase their minimum wages.
However, state legislation to increase the minimum wage has repeatedly failed. Any increase for low-wage workers in Lexington will only happen if our council makes it happen. Louisville has recognized this responsibility. It is time for our council to do the same.
Opposition to increasing the minimum wage is most often accompanied by the claim that doing so will result in job losses. But more and more research indicates that this is simply not true. A 2013 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research highlighted two studies examining 25 years of research. The report concludes that "the minimum wage has little or no discernible effect on the employment prospects of low-wage workers."
Despite these facts, opponents to decent wages still keep making the false claim that jobs will be lost. However, we must remember that the folks who are still supporting this now discredited theory are the same characters who have been pitching "trickle-down economics" for more than three decades.
This theory supports the notion that manipulating the tax code to favor the super-wealthy will benefit everyone. What we have to show for that policy is a shrinking middle class and drastic levels of wealth and income inequality in America. These disparities are now so severe that democracy itself is threatened as billionaires flood cash into the campaigns of politicians who become their mouthpieces.
Don't believe these discredited theories. And don't let our council ignore the minimum wage while making silly excuses. If we are going to sustain a livable community for all of Lexington, the council needs to pass an ordinance establishing a Fayette County minimum wage of no less than $10 per hour, that is then indexed to inflation.