A bill was introduced in the N.C. House of Representatives on Feb. 21 to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024.
House Bill 146 would be effective as of Jan. 1, 2020, when the wage would increase from $7.25 an hour to $8.80 an hour. For every year until 2024, it would increase to $10.35 in 2021, $12 in 2022 and $13.50 in 2023. Changes would still be subject to the Consumer Price Index, which would allow lawmakers to accurately adjust the wage according to inflation.
Jon Sanders, a director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation described the impact the wage increase would potentially have on employment in the state.
"Workers who are not employable at the higher minimum wage will not find jobs," Sanders said.
An almost identical bill was introduced in the N.C. Senate in 2017, which would have increased the wage from $7.25 to $15 in 2022. The bill passed a first reading but never made it out of committee.
“To ensure that they can actively live in North Carolina, in my opinion it is a right thing to do. Why reintroduce it? Most bills, coming through here have to be reintroduced, because they may die in a committee, it just depends,” said N.C. Rep. Kandie Smith, D-District 8, one of the co-sponsors of the bill.
"Goods and services have increased, a lot of people are just living from paycheck to paycheck," said N.C. Sen. Joyce Waddell, D-Mecklenburg, a sponsor of the 2017 bill.
Smith said the new bill is significant for North Carolina families.
“We see a lot of people working two and three jobs to try and pay for their rent, put food on their table and take care of their kids,” Smith said.
Smith said implementing a living wage is an urgent issue since many people are living from paycheck to paycheck.
“We started slow because we thought it would be more palatable, but we were looking at the living wage, and people must have a living wage,” Waddell said.
Susan Romaine, chairperson of Orange County Living Wage, said she believes the increase in the income gap was one reason the bill was reintroduced.
"We have been stuck in the mud for 10 years now, but at the same time recognizing that while this is a good first step, there's a lot of work to do to get the minimum wage closer to what that living wage really is," Romaine said.
The current minimum wage law in North Carolina has exceptions to paying the full minimum wage, including tipped wages. It states that to prevent any curtailment of employment opportunities, companies are able to pay up to 85 percent of the full minimum wage with approval from the N.C. Department of Labor.
Ana Pardo, a communications coordinator at NC Justice Center, said she believed many organizations who want to increase the minimum wage are also advocating for an end to the laws regarding tipped wage. The 2019 bill does not mention tipped wages.
“It's true that tipped wage has increased poverty among service industry workers in particular, so the tipped wage is $2.13 per hour and the rest of your income 100 percent depends on how lucky you are with what customers you serve on a given day," she said.
Pardo also said that in North Carolina, people with disabilities can be paid less than the minimum wage as long as it is not lower than 50 percent of the minimum wage.
While some North Carolinians believe a minimum wage increase would have positive impacts, Sanders said employers would have more difficulty hiring workers.
“Employers aren't able to take a chance on brand new workers or are less likely to take a chance on brand new workers, the higher it is they have to pay them," he said. "Or they may take different approaches to it because labor budgets are finite.”
The bill was referred to committee on Monday.
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