BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Governor John Bel Edwards will push for a $1.25 increase to the Louisiana minimum wage again in 2019. Prior attempts to raise wages have failed repeatedly since the federal government set the minimum at $7.25 in 2009.
Since then, the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) estimates the monthly cost of food for one adult male has gone up $240. Other expenses have risen as well, according to LWC Director Ava Dejoie. That information is illustrated here, by Walletwyse.
“Fifteen thousand dollars each year, which is what the minimum wage equates to, is not enough to sustain someone regardless of where you are,” Dejoie said. “It’s past time to raise the wage.”
In 2016, researchers at LSU conducted a statewide poll that indicated 76 percent of Louisianans favor raising the minimum wage to $8.50, as proposed by Edwards. According to the poll, 59 percent of Republicans supported the plan.
But business lobbyists and some conservative legislators have opposed the proposal at every turn, arguing small businesses in rural areas might not be able to afford a mandatory wage hike.
“We just oppose government getting involved in the process,” Louisiana NFIB Director Dawn Starnes said after a hearing during the 2018 regular session. “Other businesses in other states tell us they have had to cut workers or they’ve had to cut hours."
“It’s just the nature of business,” she continued. "They’re going to have to react to make their bottom line work.”
Other opponents argued minimum wage workers should have chances to work their way up or learn more valuable skills, concerned that businesses might not be able to provide those opportunities if wages are raised.
Louisiana Budget Project Director Jan Moller, an ally in Edwards' fight to raise the minimum wage, says businesses that cannot handle a “modest increase” to the minimum wage probably would not survive anyway.
“If you’re making $7.25 an hour, other taxpayers are probably subsidizing you with public benefits,” he said. “If that’s how you have to make a profit, you’re probably not a very good business.”
Moller estimates 200,000 Louisianans would get a raise if Edwards' wishes are granted, adding he would support a legal change that would allow city-parish governments to set their own minimum wages. Dejoie disagreed, adding workers in one city “should not earn any less than someone someplace else.”
Both Moller and Dejoie say they sense mounting support for a wage hike because of nationwide enthusiasm about the idea. When the calendar flipped to 2019, minimum wage workers in 20 other states saw their paychecks increase because of legislative changes.
Moller noted conservative lawmakers might find wage hikes more palatable because it’s an election year.
“Nothing worthwhile is ever easy,” Dejoie said. “When we say we have a cheap labor force, that says we don’t value our labor force or our labor force isn’t valuable. That is simply not the case.”
The legislative session begins in April.