On 10th anniversary of last federal minimum wage increase, local advocates lobby for new hike

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DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Wednesday marked the tenth anniversary of the last increase in the federal minimum wage, sparking advocates to host events across North Carolina, calling on lawmakers to raise it to $15 an hour.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. North Carolina has not increased the minimum wage beyond that.

“It’s been ten years since the minimum wage went up, and there’s a housing crisis. And, it’s still set at $7.25, that we can’t live off of,” said Earl Bradley, a shift supervisor at Wendy’s. He makes $9.25 per hour while trying to support himself and his mother. “The food, the rent and utilities, everything is going up.”

The push for a $15 minimum wage in North Carolina is part of a nationwide campaign to increase the minimum wage, and has also become a position many Democratic presidential candidates have supported.

A 2017 report by the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute found that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024 would directly affect nearly 1.1 million workers in North Carolina, with an additional 605,000 being indirectly affected. That accounts for about 39 percent of the state’s workforce.

Democrats in the U.S. House recently led efforts to pass a bill raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. The Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to take up the bill.

A report this month by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would increase the wages of about 17 million workers in the U.S. The CBO also notes another 10 million people already earning at least $15 an hour could see their pay go up too. In addition, the number of people living “below the poverty threshold… would fall by 1.3 million.”

“But 1.3 million other workers would become jobless, according to CBO’s median estimate. There is a two-thirds chance that the change in employment would be between about zero and a decrease of 3.7 million workers,” the report also notes.

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“There are too many costs to minimum wage,” said Bob Luebke, director of policy at the conservative NC Civitas Institute, which has opposed minimum wage legislation. “The minimum wage is put forward as an anti-poverty program, and if you look at the impacts of it, it’s really not.”

“The minimum wage was not intended to raise people out of low-wage jobs and allow them to support a family,” he said.

A few years ago the City of Durham began a phased-in approach to increasing the minimum wage for full-time city employees to $15 an hour.

The Republican-controlled state legislature also approved paying full-time state workers a minimum of $15 an hour. At the same time, Republican legislative leaders have resisted calls for raising the minimum wage state-wide.

Dezrick Dixon began operating a food cart in downtown Durham 12 years ago after more than two decades in the food service industry making close to the minimum wage.

“It’s big! I just bought my first house off of it, hired my first employee, about to get another one,” he said of the success he’s had since starting his business.

He said he supports increasing the minimum wage because of the struggles he faced for years. He says he’s trying to help people learn how to operate food carts as well, so they can start a business similar to his.

“At any time, you could either get fired, you can’t get a raise, or something. So, with this I get to control my destiny,” he said.

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