Debate over minimum wage hinges on fairness and self-sufficiency vs. potential job losses

05/14/2014 11:26 AM

Kentucky Democrats are preparing to focus on raising the minimum wage as a key argument in state House races — as well as the U.S. Senate race — this fall, especially as some prominent Republicans, such as 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney , embrace it.

Proponents say the lowest wages need to go up considering someone working full time at a minimum-wage job would bring in $15,080 before taxes as a full year’s salary. That’s below the federal poverty level for a household of two. Raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over three years would bump the lowest-earning full-time workers to an annual income of more than $21,000.

Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky AFL-CIO, argued an increase in the minimum wage would not only help individuals making lower wages but also help the state get people off government assistance programs, thus saving taxpayers.

Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Rockfield, acknowledged that a wage increase would help the earnings of those making the lowest wages but said it would hurt businesses, especially small businesses, if they can’t afford those pay increases.

DeCesare referred to a child care assistance program run by Western Kentucky University that employs students to help with after school care.

“When they raised the minimum wage last time, they had to lay off employees and not only that, they had to reduce services,” DeCesare said (at 2:30). “When you raise the minimum wage, that has an effect on those individuals who have their kids in those programs.”

DeCesare also cited the possibility for an unfunded mandate on government positions if the minimum wage was raised, specifically positions in school districts.

But Londrigan maintained that the debate is all about treating people fairly and the increased buying power he believed would come as a result.

“The person making more money is purchasing more goods, paying more in sales tax, putting more money back into the economy,” Londrigan said. “So this is not just a zero sum game where that money goes out there and doesn’t get recirculated.”

See the full debate below:

State lawmakers debated the issue in February when Democrats in the House passed the legislation. It stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.

State law already requires Kentucky’s minimum wage to go up when the federal minimum wage law does. Congress is currently stuck in the same philosophical divide over whether to incrementally increase the rate over a three year period.

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Pure Politics airs Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. ET and again at 11:30 p.m. ET in all of cn|2's Kentucky markets. The program features political analysis and news, as well as interviews with officials, candidates, policy makers and political observers.

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