Rep. Bennett: Minimum-Wage Increase Boon to Workers

This editorial was published in Sunday's Delaware State News.

By Rep. Andria Bennett, 32nd District

The holiday season is in full swing, which means Christmas trees are being set up, lights are being strung and carols can be heard everywhere. It also means businesses large and small are in the throes of their busiest shopping season of the year.

To handle the influx of shoppers, many retail stores hire temporary help for the holidays. This is great for those who are unemployed or under-employed – there are more jobs available for those who need them. But many of these jobs in Delaware pay the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. While I know people are grateful for the opportunity to work, that wage is simply not enough to make ends meet.

In May, the House Economic Development Committee considered a bill to raise Delaware’s minimum wage to $8.25 per hour. As a member of the committee, I voted against the bill. I had heard from small business owners who told me that raising wages would hurt their operations at a time when many are still recovering from the economic recession. 

Over the past six months, I have thought about this issue a lot. I have talked with constituents in my district, and it is clear to me that raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do. I intend to support any efforts to release the bill from committee when we return to session next month and pass it into law.

Constituents I have spoken with have no doubts about what an increase in the minimum wage would mean for them. The additional family income would go right back into the local economy. It would pay for gas – which has increased by about $1 per gallon since the last minimum wage increase in 2009 – to get to and from work. It would pay for prescriptions, school supplies for kids, groceries, utilities and other necessities. 

Minimum-wage earners are hard-working Delawareans who are trying to keep a roof over their heads and put food on their tables. We interact with them every day. They ring us up at the register and serve our meals – about 60 percent of people making minimum wage work in retail or food service. Many of these workers have post-secondary educations. More than one-third of those making minimum wage have some college education, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another 8 percent have at least a bachelor’s degree.

I was pleased that my colleague Rep. Bryon Short, a small business owner who chairs the House Economic Development Committee, recently stated that he also is supporting the minimum wage increase bill. He observed that we are seeing economic expansion while unemployment in Delaware has dropped from 7.4 percent in July to 6.8 percent in October, the lowest rate in nearly five years.

The Christmas spirit is about loving our neighbors, seeking to better understand the challenges they face and doing what we can to make each other’s lives better. In this season, we should remember those in our community who struggle to provide for their families while earning the minimum wage, and work to give them a firmer footing on which to build their lives.

I am hopeful that when we return to session next month, we will be able to increase the minimum wage. Families should not have to choose between buying groceries and paying their electric bills. By raising the minimum wage, we will help thousands of Delaware families feel more secure in their ability to pay for life’s necessities and reach for a better future for their children.