By Rep. Darrio Melton
I have made it no secret that one of my main goals for this legislative session is to encourage an increase in Alabama’s minimum wage. In the past few weeks, I’ve received a lot of support for this legislation, but also experienced a lot of pushback. I want to use this time to address those individuals’ concerns and explain why I refuse to back down on this bill.
I have heard several concerns that an increase in the minimum wage will lead to unemployment. When a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research looked at the data from older and current studies, he found that minimum wage increases had no significant effect on job loss. More than 100 economists agree.
The truth is that when our hourly workers make more money, they put every dime back into the economy. They are able to spend a little more on food, on clothing, on transportation, and that money goes back into the very business that pay minimum wage. This goes back to Henry Ford and the first automobiles. He realized that paying his workers more meant that they were actually able to buy his products, which made his company even more profitable.
Another concern I have heard is that people making minimum wage should work harder to get a raise. One person even said, “If a middle-aged woman is working for minimum wage, something is wrong…People simply do not work a minimum wage job long for no good reason!”
I have to tell you, hearing comments like that is unnerving because they show a complete lack of understanding and empathy. The fact is, people work minimum wage jobs for a variety of reasons and I can assure you that one of those reasons is not because they want to.
Everyone deserves enough pay to provide for the basic necessities at poverty level. When we don’t pay our employees a living wage, they turn to the government to help make ends meet. Some companies even provide instructions for their hourly employees to sign up for food stamps and other benefits. If we want our women to choose life, we must provide her with the resources to confidently bring a baby into this world. We can pay our employees well enough to help them provide for themselves or we can offer them assistance in the form of charity and social programs.
But I will promise the Republicans this: you can’t have it both ways. You cannot wage a war on the social safety net, promising to dismantle Medicaid and drug test for benefits while fighting a minimum wage increase and arguing that any minimum wage is unfair to businesses.
When this bill gets to the Committee, the Republicans will vote it down. It will likely never see the House floor. But we have fought this battle before, and we will continue fighting it.
From the 1968 strikes in Memphis to the Alabama State House, ask the members of the legislature and the supporters of big business: Am I not a human being just like you? Do I not need a roof and three meals and health care and transportation? Do I not have feelings and self-worth and dignity just like you? Am I not more than a bottom line?
I am just one vote in the Alabama legislature, but if we work together we can make a better life for all Alabamians.
Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010.