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Star-Advertiser Column: Lawmakers lag on minimum wage

The House Democrats’ minimum wage proposal to suggest that employers who provide health insurance should be able to pay employees as little as $12.50 per hour, $26,000 for full-time work, in 2024 is just wrong. Minimum-wage workers with health insurance are suffering right now, so why would keeping them at a less- than-living wage work in the future?

The state House’s proposal is far less than the $35,000 per year that a single, childless adult needs to barely afford basic needs today, according to estimates from Hawaii’s DBEDT Self-Sufficiency study.

The differences between the House and the Senate’s proposals will need to be reconciled during conference committee. The fate of Hawaii’s workers and their families is in their hands.

A recent Star-Advertiser editorial was right that “it falls to lawmakers to enact wage policies that are realistic — and equitable. They’re not there yet” (“Hawaii’s minimum-wage bill needs work,” Our View, April 7).

A majority of House representatives spent the 2018 campaign season supporting not only a $15 minimum wage, but an actual living wage. However, with the elections behind them, the House is offering wages that barely keep up with inflation.

What Democrats in Hawaii have offered pales next to what Republicans are doing in other states.

Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan suggested a minimum wage of $12.10 for its residents by 2022, compared with Hawaii’s House Democrats’ offer of only $11.50 by then. Meanwhile, Maryland’s cost of living is lower than that of Hawaii.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been the No. 1 opponent to minimum wage increases over the last several decades — but even its president and CEO of over 20 years, Thomas Donohue, stated that it will no longer oppose any or all minimum wage hikes. McDonald’s fast-food restaurant recently announced the same thing.

Hawaii is not unique with high costs, but stands alone with low wages.

Hawaii’s costs of living approaches that of New York City and San Francisco. To ensure that their populations do not struggle, New York City and San Francisco raised their minimum wages to $15 an hour. A full-time worker there makes at least $31,000 annually in comparison to just $21,000 annually that a worker makes in Hawaii. Five other states are also on their way to a $15-per-hour minimum wage by 2023.

Our Legislature’s failure to reasonably protect workers’ wages is unique among Democratic states and it has exacerbated poverty in Hawaii. Shouldn’t we be doing all we can to alleviate poverty instead?

Legislators in Hawaii appear supportive of the proposal that grants them raises of more than $12,000, pushing their salaries up to $74,000 annually. Clearly they understand the need to raise wages to keep up with the rising cost of living. That applies even more to low-income workers who now make $21,000 yearly while working full-time.

We can provide a brighter future.

It’s time for Hawaii’s House representatives to join our senators’ proposal in standing with working families. It’s time for them to legislate according to their own Democratic Party’s stated priorities and their avowed principles. It’s past time for them to support, at the very least, a phased-in $15 per hour or more minimum wage for all workers by 2023. Failure to achieve this standard is to condemn our low-income workers to several more years of starvation wages. It’s the decent thing to do to ensure a decent living for all. We should be able to ensure that in the Aloha State.

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