Hawaii on right course with minimum wage

Hawaii lawmakers did the right thing in raising the state’s minimum wage for the first time since 2007. Now, all that’s needed to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over four years is Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s signature. And he has indicated he will sign it.

“It is imperative to provide our lowest paid workers with the economic stability and security they deserve,” Abercrombie said.

“Hawaii’s minimum wage earners have not had a raise from $7.25 an hour since 2007. I look forward to working with the legislature to bring fairness to the people of Hawaii.”

Even President Barack Obama commended Hawaii lawmakers for the increase.

The president said in a statement Wednesday that Republicans in Congress should follow Hawaii’s lead and raise the minimum wage for 28 million Americans. Later Wednesday, U.S. Senate Republicans blocked a bill seeking a federal minimum wage increase.

Obama says Hawaii joins a large coalition of states, counties, cities and businesses to give individuals a raise. Hawaii is one of the most expensive states to live. Yet, it’s held the line on the minimum wage while housing, transportation, utilities and food have all risen. Even with this hike, many workers will still need to hold down more than one job just to get by. Hawaii has a poverty rate of close to 20 percent. A single parent with a child, working 40 hours a week at minimum wage earns about 15 percent below the federal poverty guidelines for a family of two.

Of course, there will be those who argue raising the minimum wage is bad for the economy, hurts businesses — big and small — operating on slim profit margins, forces prices to be raised and results in lost jobs. All of those points are valid. Restaurants, very much a major employer on Kauai, would be greatly affected by a minimum wage hike. That’s why we ask, when you do go out for dinner, don’t complain if prices are higher and please continue to support local businesses.

“I’ve talked to business owners who haven’t paid themselves in seven months, because they’re barely surviving,” said Rep. Richard Fale, R-Waialua. “That’s the kind of struggling that’s going on in our private sector these days.”

But the minimum wage, even with some pain for business owners, must rise. It’s not fair to keep the minimum wage down so large companies can earn higher profits. When Hawaii has people earning minimum wage who are homeless, something has to change. It starts with providing a workforce with a more livable wage. We’re not talking great riches here. This path to $10.10 is over four years. And sorry, the trickle down theory just doesn’t work, at least not anymore. There’s a reason more of the country’s finances are controlled by fewer people — just saying the rich are staying rich by holding tight to their money.

“Raising the minimum wage I contend will have a direct, positive impact on Hawaii’s families,” said Sen. Rosalyn Baker, D-South and West Maui. “Hawaii’s women with children are disproportionately represented in low wage jobs, and they are the ones who will gain the most from an increase in the minimum wage.”

We encourage the federal government to follow Hawaii in increasing the minimum wage.

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