JEFFERSON CITY - Democratic efforts to raise the state minimum wage met a strong wall of opposition from business lobbyists during a Senate hearing, Tuesday, Feb. 11.
The Senate Small Business Committee met in a jam-packed hearing room on Tuesday afternoon to hear the heavily debated bill.
Sponsored by Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, the bill would raise the state minimum wage from $7.50 to $10 an hour. Nasheed, accompanied by 15 supporters present at the hearing, urged for the increase in wages, citing that $7.50 "is not a livable wage."
"Currently, an individual who works a full time job at a minimum wage level, and who's supporting a family of three, will fall below the federal poverty line," said Nasheed during the hearing. "To me, that is appalling."
The bill's heavy opposition claimed that increasing the minimum wage would result in higher unemployment rates across the state, especially in teens seeking low-skill jobs.
"In 2009, the minimum wage was raised in the middle of the year about 10 or 11 percent," said David Overfelt, president of the Missouri Retailers Association. "In the next six months of the year, the economy grew by 4 percent, but teen jobs decreased by about 600,000."
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half of all workers earning just at or below minimum wage are 25 or younger, an age group that could be heavily effected by the bill.
"If you force a small business to artificially inflate the wages they're paying to their workers, they are going to have to let go some of those workers," said Jay Atkins, a member of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce. "If you think it's hard to buy a gallon of milk when you have a minimum wage job, it's damn near impossible to do it when you don't have a job."
Nasheed's supporters, ranging from economics professors to single mothers, agreed that an increase in wages would promote growth and consumer spending and would increase the quality of life for Missourians working minimum wage jobs. They also reminded the committee that in 2006, Missourians voted by a 3 to 1 margin to increase the minimum wage.
"Workers in Missouri, despite putting in regular hours, are struggling each and every day to provide basic necessities for themselves and their families," said Nasheed. "That is unacceptable."
According to Nasheed, more than 20 states have initiated bills that aim to increase their minimum wages. These Democratic bills come at the same time as President Obama's urge to increase minimum wages, a proposal made in his State of the Union address in late January.
The bill would also raise the minimum wage for tipped jobs, as well as increase penalties on those who pay lower than the new wage. In addition, the bill lengthens the time limit that you can file a claim from two to three years. If passed, the bill could appear on ballots as early as January of 2015.
As is customary upon its first hearing, the committee took no immediate action on the bill.