UPDATE (December 19): Louisville just became the first southern city to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. The increase will take effect by 2017. Louisville is the 12th U.S. city to raise the minimum wage this year. Congratulations to Councilwoman Attica Scott, Kentucky Jobs with Justice, and the many allies who have worked on this issue.
Linda lives at a local shelter with two children. She works full-time in the health care industry and earns $8 per hour, resulting in a yearly income of $16,640 before taxes. Even in the unlikely event Linda were to find an apartment for less than $600 per month with cheap utilities, she would still have only $200 left for all of her other monthly bills, including food, clothing, transportation, child care, and health care. Finding an apartment she can afford also might mean living in a neighborhood where it is difficult to get to work.
Linda’s story of struggling from paycheck-to-paycheck is one that we hear far too often in Louisville and across the nation. Unfortunately, Congress and our state legislature have both failed to raise the current $7.25 an hour minimum wage. Now, low-wage workers in Louisville have placed their hope in the hands of the Louisville Metro Council and Mayor Greg Fisher.
The current proposal supported by workers and advocates would gradually increase Louisville’s minimum wage over three years to $10.10. This is only a start, since it is significantly less than the $11.48 living wage that former Mayor Jerry Abramson called for during his tenure. Moreover, the average monthly rent in Louisville is $694 and families will need to earn $13 per hour in order to afford housing and other household expenditures. Like Linda, more than half of the adults living in Louisville homeless shelters are employed, some working full-time.
With more than 18 percent of Louisvillians now living below the poverty line of $18,552 annually for a family of three, we must do what we can locally to raise the minimum wage so it is no longer a poverty wage. An estimated 22 percent of low-wage workers in Louisville would benefit from a minimum wage increase, including 62,500 workers who make less than $10.10, and another 24,800 workers who would indirectly benefit once wage scales were adjusted upward.
And while the opposition would have us believe that undeserving teenagers working in the fast food industry will primarily benefit from an increased minimum wage, the fact is that among affected workers the average age is 35 years old; more than one-third are at least 40 years old; and most of the workers are women. I hear the opposition clearly when they say that there may be minimal job loss, or that raising the minimum wage will not end poverty; and I understand that some businesses may have to increase their prices.
But the cost of goods and services is already increasing every year without the benefit of a minimum wage increase. And while raising the minimum wage will not end poverty, it will indeed help move some people out of poverty, and others who are on the cusp of poverty will no longer need assistance.
In order to help businesses adapt to increased wages, sponsors of the Louisville minimum wage legislation intentionally designed it to increase gradually over three years. We are committed to supporting businesses and we have proven that repeatedly by providing economic development incentives. During the last decade, we have used tax dollars to give tax breaks to the Yum Center, General Electric, Kentucky Kingdom, Colonial Gardens, and Cordish Companies, just to name a few beneficiaries. Now we are asking businesses to invest in their workers. I know that there are areas of agreement that should be our focus: reducing income inequality, creating job stability, establishing fair wages, promoting compassion, and reducing poverty. We can get there and raising the minimum wage is a good start.
As the Labor and Economic Development Committee of the Louisville Metro Council prepares to vote on the minimum wage ordinance on December 4, I hope that we keep in mind that we simply cannot afford the price of poverty and we cannot afford to ignore working families. We can and we should raise the wage in Louisville.