By Rep. Darrio Melton
Last week, I announced that I’ll continue the battle to increase Alabama’s minimum wage.
Last year, I sponsored HB279, which proposed increasing the minimum wage to $9.80 per hour over three years. This year, we’re going to give the new Legislature another chance to allow the bill to come to the floor for a vote.
I think this is a very important conversation that we should be having as a state. That’s why I’m proposing a two-phase process to increase the minimum wage: the members of the Legislature have to pass the bill to allow it on the ballot, and the people of Alabama have to vote for the amendment for it to go into effect.
Since last year, the minimum wage was on the ballot in four very Conservative states, and it passed by a wide margin in all four of them: in Arkansas by 30 points, in Nebraska by 24 points, in South Dakota by 10 points and in Alaska by 38 points.
Republicans and Democrats across the nation can recognize the need for an increase in the minimum wage. Wages have been stagnant while the cost of goods and services have increased, placing an even larger burden on working families.
This is a touchy issue for many people–and I’ve had plenty of them share their opinions with me in the past few days.
I’ve heard people dismiss the idea of a living wage, saying, “Minimum wage isn’t supposed to be a living wage. It’s supposed to be a starting point to work your way up.” While many people do use minimum wage to work through college or to gain opportunities for advancement, the cycle of poverty is a hard grip to escape. If you can’t pay the bills, its hard to focus in school or be healthy enough to do a good job at work. Talk to someone who’s trying and they’ll let you know just how tough it is.
I’ve heard people criticize single, working mothers, saying, “Maybe they should have become financially stable before having a family.” Children are a blessing despite the terms under which they enter this world, and no child deserves to go without basic necessities because of those terms.
I’ve heard people say that an increase in the minimum wage will cost Alabama jobs. The truth is that it will create approximately 1,800 new jobs and add additional revenue to the state coffers through payroll and sales taxes. If you haven’t heard, we desperately need the money.
We can’t simply sit back and define ourselves in terms of how well our most successful people are doing without also considering those who strive for success but fall short every day. The measure of our state is not just the top one percent, but also the bottom one percent.
When we lift from the bottom, we empower everyone to provide for themselves and their families. In doing so, we all gain greater opportunities for success and work together to make sweet home Alabama a little sweeter for everyone.
Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.