House Speaker Greg Stumbo filed legislation on Wednesday, Jan. 20 that would provide the first increase to Kentucky’s minimum wage in nearly seven years.
“It is way past time that we give a raise to those families who depend on the minimum wage,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “Beyond the budget, no other bill the General Assembly considers this year would do more for our economy and improve the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of families. We need to take this step now, because waiting another year would just put these families further behind.”
Under his House Bill 278, the state’s minimum wage would rise in three steps, each less than a dollar a year, from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by July 2018.
Stumbo noted that his legislation is similar to the last minimum wage increase the General Assembly passed, which was in 2007 and became fully effective in 2009.
“That measure had a lot of bipartisan support, so I don’t see why this one can’t as well,” he said.
Information compiled last year by the Legislative Research Commission, the General Assembly’s administrative arm, found that about 391,000 Kentuckians earn less than $10.10 an hour. About 60,000 of those earn the minimum wage or less.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 percent of those making minimum wage are women, and more than half are 22 or older.
“The idea that most of the people earning minimum wage are teenagers is wrong,” Stumbo said. “There are in fact many families who have at least one breadwinner earning minimum wage, and there are a number of single-parent families that fit this category as well. If they’re working full-time, they’re only earning about $15,000 a year.”
House Bill 278 would bring that figure up to $19,533, roughly the same earning power the minimum wage had in the late 1960s when adjusted for inflation.
Stumbo noted that a poll released earlier this month by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Interact for Health found that almost 70 percent of adults in the commonwealth favored a minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour. That corresponds with a Bluegrass Poll from last March that showed raising the minimum wage was by far the most important issue in the governor’s race.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 29 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage, with 12 of those states increasing their wages through legislation approved in 2014 or 2015. In 2014, that included voter-approved initiatives in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.
In addition to raising the minimum wage, Stumbo’s bill also provides help to some of the state’s smallest businesses currently exempt from the state’s minimum wage law. The current limit of $95,000 in gross sales, which hasn’t changed since 1976, would rise to $500,000 and would apply to retail stores, service industries, hotels and restaurants.
House Bill 278 has a gender-equity provision as well, to prohibit discrimination based on sex, race or national origin. This would apply in those industries dominated by a particular sex, race or national origin, and would allow for wage differentials based on merit, seniority and productivity.