Legislation aimed at offering a “living wage” to Utahns died in the House Business and Labor Committee Thursday.
HB 195 – Living Wage Amendments, sponsored by Representative Lynn Hemingway (Democrat – Millcreek), raises the minimum wage for a private and public employees to $12.00 per hour. Employees who earn tips would also see an increase to $5.00 per hour. The current minimums are $7.25 and $2.80 per hour, respectively.
In addition, the bill called for wages to be subject to increases on the first day of every even-numbered year, beginning on January 1, 2018. The amount would be a percentage equal to the percentage difference between the average of the Consumer Price Index for the two preceding calendar years and the Consumer Price Index for calendar year 2015.
Hemingway told the committee that raising the minimum wage could give a boost to the fight against intergenerational poverty. “We’ve got a chance here to try to do something about that that is positive,” said Hemingway. “The time has come to look at this and really take it seriously. We have a lot of people out there who can’t afford to live. We’re very concerned about the homeless, but a lot of these [workers] are one paycheck away from homeless.”
Candace Daly, Utah state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said that Seattle experienced a rise in unemployment after the minimum wage was increased, and she fears a similar outcome for Utah. “I’m concerned. I like where the economy of Utah is going. I would like to see some help for citizens who are trying to get their life back together after they’ve been in prison, incarcerated, or wherever. I just don’t think that this is a model that Utah wants to follow.”
Barbara Munoz, a policy analyst at the Community Action Partnership of Utah (CAP), said that many single mothers are struggling to make it as minimum-wage employees. For single mothers with children under age 5, the poverty rate is 50 percent, according to Munoz. Jean Hill, government liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said the current minimum wage is insufficient and makes it next to impossible for workers to form a household or support a family.
“We prefer not to rely on federal minimums in every other area of our government, why not this one? No Utahn should work a full-time job and not be able to make rent, buy groceries, or cover other needs. Our costs have changed, and we need to adapt,” said Hemingway. “A living wage tied to the Consumer Price Index allows Utah to be economically competitive. Utahns take pride in our economic success. This is an area where we need to catch up.”
“I wonder how people exist on $7.25 an hour,” said Representative Dixon Pitcher (Republican – Ogden). He was the only GOP committee member to vote for the bill
After Representative Susan Duckworth (Democrat – Magna) made a motion to pass HB 195 out with a favorable recommendation, Representative Marc Roberts (Republican – Santaquin) made a substitute motion to move to the next item on the agenda. The substitute motion passed on an 8-3 vote. This defeat marks the third time such legislation has been voted down in recent years.