Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Opinion | Alabama residents deserve livable wages

CW / Shelby West

As the price of living increases across the United States, residents find it more and more difficult to pay bills, buy groceries, and provide for themselves and their families. In the past, Congress has been punctual about stepping in and passing legislation or increasing the minimum wage to combat these issues, but the federal minimum wage has remained the same since 2009, when it was raised from $6.55 to $7.25.

The last 14 and a half years constitute the longest period in history without an increase in the federal minimum wage since it was introduced as part of the New Deal.

Some states have created state minimum wages to account for the increase in prices and poverty levels in their area. Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia have adopted minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage.

Thirteen states have the same minimum wage as the federal minimum wage. Two states have state minimum wages that are lower than the federal rate, so the federal rate prevails. Five states have no state minimum wage, so the federal rate prevails there as well.

Alabama is one of the five without a state minimum wage.

There was still hope, though. In 2003, as minimum wage legislation popped up across states, counties and cities, Seattle, Washington, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, introduced local minimum wage ordinances.

By 2020, cities in 42 states had established local minimum wages higher than the state they reside in.

In 2015, the Birmingham City Council tried to influence the state legislature to raise the statewide minimum wage to $10. After the state declined, the city council adopted its own minimum wage standards. During this time, 30% of people living in Birmingham were living below the poverty line.

Birmingham’s minimum wage increases were set to begin in July 2016, raising the hourly wage to $8.50, and then scheduled to rise to $10.10 in 2017. Supporters said it would help lift families out of poverty, boost the local economy and decrease income inequality.

The Alabama House of Representatives and Senate acted quickly to quash the bill by creating a new bill of their own and nullifying the city council’s ordinance. The bill also effectively gave the Alabama legislature complete control over policy about wages, benefits and leave provided by employers.

The bill claimed this was to ensure these regulations were applied uniformly across the state, but that’s not what the state needs.

The process of states setting statewide caps on municipalities aiming to increase wages is called state preemption. Currently, 27 states have these laws in place to target minimum wage.

At the beginning of 2024, 22 states increased their state minimum wage. As one of only five states without a statewide minimum wage, Alabama still has no plans to establish one.

Why should the state government prohibit areas in Alabama where costs of living are increasing rapidly from supporting their communities with a livable wage?

A regional minimum wage, rather than a national minimum wage, provides people across the country with roughly similar standards of living, as they deserve to have. If we value hardworking Americans, it’s time to reward their hard work with the ability to make ends meet from month to month.

Mostly Democratic members of Congress have been pitching their Raise the Wage Act since 2017 and will continue to do so. The plan suggests that for a period of a few years, each year we should increase the federal minimum wage little by little, to follow inflation. After the period is up, the act will continue to raise the federal minimum wage based on median incomes so that we don’t experience a predicament like the current one again.

The Raise the Wage Act also wants to increase the wages of individuals who make most of their money off of tips and end the subminimum wage for youth workers as well as workers with disabilities.

Until new federal legislation passes, states need to make it easier for their residents to pay their bills or risk losing them to an area with more opportunities. That is, if they can afford to get there with their piddling wages.

The current poverty wage in Alabama is $6.53 for one adult working full-time. A living wage is calculated at $15.65 an hour. In the 2022 fiscal year, 15% of Alabamians were benefitting from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Alabama is not past the point of no return, but it will take a force much stronger than the Alabama Legislature to improve our conditions.

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