Rep. Short: It's time to raise Delaware's minimum wage

This column was published in the Dec. 6 edition of The News Journal

 

By Rep. Bryon Short, 7th District

 

For the past two years, legislation to increase Delaware’s minimum wage – set since 2009 at the federal level of $7.25 per hour – to $8.25 per hour has been introduced, heard in a House committee I chair and failed to receive enough support from committee members to be released to the full House for consideration.

I voted against releasing the legislation from committee at both hearings. In addition to my votes, I have stated I understood the role of minimum wage, supported minimum wage as sound public policy, and that I looked forward to the right time in our economic recovery to vote in support of the bill.

I believe now is the right time to support and pass a minimum wage increase for Delaware workers.

I’m a small business owner and I have noted that we, the business community, have a track record of taking the rhetorical position that if minimum wage is raised in a recession, it will shutter businesses. We then usually follow that up during expansion by saying that raising wages will halt the good times. The research on the impact of minimum wage on a macroeconomic level does not bear this assessment out. A stable recovery period, in my opinion, is the time to raise the minimum wage and allow all workers to participate in the economic recovery.

I have outlined what I have been looking for in our economic recovery to indicate the time was right to move the minimum wage bill forward: things such as the Federal Reserve pulling back from its bond program, or two months of expansion coupled with declining unemployment. In Delaware, our unemployment rate has dropped from 7.4 percent in July to 6.8 percent in October, the lowest rate in nearly five years.

We certainly have a ways to go in our efforts to establish a robust economic expansion, but I believe a combination of the economic indicators I have been looking for are present. I intend to reconsider the minimum wage bill when the House reconvenes in January. That requires getting the bill released from committee, and I hope my colleagues on the Economic Development Committee will vote to send it to the full House for passage.

During the 2012 hearing on the minimum wage bill, I raised the option of indexing the minimum wage – tying future wage increases to the Consumer Price Index – as is done in several other states. Although committee members expressed interest in learning more about indexing the minimum wage, the representatives of the business community expressed strong and immediate opposition to this idea. The original bill Sen. Robert Marshall introduced this past spring incorporated indexing the minimum wage, but it was amended out of the legislation. I still believe that indexing has strong merit and should be considered as the bill moves forward.

The role of minimum wage is important, but public policy addressing why workers earn minimum wage and are not moving up to a livable wage is even more important. Issues such as improving literacy, numeracy and other skills are critical to making it possible for an employer to pay workers a higher wage.

As a small business owner, I must note minimum wage is not just about minimum-wage workers. Increases in the minimum wage create upward pressure through the next couple of wage tiers. This will no doubt increase pressure on employers. This pressure will be most keenly felt by Delaware’s small business community.

Unlike large companies posting record profits, small businesses operate with a much smaller profit margin. They are our neighbors and friends who have chosen to provide us with our neighborhood coffee shops, hardware stores and restaurants.

In that spirit, I would urge all Delawareans to do our part by spending our dollars locally when we have the opportunity. Making the decision to spend locally is not only about supporting the Delaware business owner, but also about supporting the workers employed there and their families.