S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.1217.wagelaw.htm

Time for SC to act on increasing minimum wage
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

DEC. 17, 2006 - -South Carolinians are a warm, kind and generous people.

Just ask Jermaine Husser, head of the Lowcountry Food Bank. At this time of year, people open their hearts and wallets to collect and give 400 tons of free food for thousands of hungry people along the coast.

But getting donations and help around the holidays isn't too tough. It's the rest of the year that poses challenges, especially in South Carolina, now recognized as the hungriest state in the nation.

"It's feast or famine for us," Husser said. "Around the summertime when people's minds are on vacation or their leisurely life, they forget about the people who are not getting any food or the kids who are not getting lunch or breakfast at school."

WAGES. States in green have a minimum wage higher than the federal $5.15 standard. States in blue are at the federal standard. States in yellow like SC don't have a minimum wage law. Oklahoma (red) has a minimum wage below the federal standard. More: U.S. Department of Labor.

According to a November report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 15.5 percent of South Carolinians are "food insecure," which means they aren't able financially to guarantee they will avoid hunger without help or charity. The study also showed some 6.3 percent of South Carolinians - - about 100,000 families - - experienced hunger between 2003 and 2005. This most recent federal data translates into another dubious South Carolina first - - number 1 in hunger. Just eight years ago, the Palmetto State ranked 21st.

About the same time in 1997, the federal government increased the minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.15. Since then, inflation has erased the buying power of the wage increase. $5.15 today buys the equivalent of only $3.95 in 1995, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Another set of facts: South Carolina has about 64,000 working poor families with children - - families where parents work most of the year, but who live at or below the poverty level, which is $20,000 a year for a family of four in 2006.

So if you mix all this information, it's easy to draw the conclusion that a significant number of South Carolinians are working, but don't make enough money to get out of poverty or hunger, at least for part of the year. Again - - they work, but they don't earn a living wage.

In the last few weeks, two similar bills, one in the Senate and another in the House, have been prefiled that call for South Carolina to set a minimum wage at $6.15, or $1 above the federal standard. Currently, the state is one of six without a minimum wage law. Half of states have minimum wages at or above the federal minimum.


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Husser, the head of the Food Bank, says raising the minimum wage is a great strategy for South Carolina's charitable people to do something for poor people throughout the year. A $1 increase in the minimum wage would translate to $8 more per day or $2,000 per year. It would raise living standards and decrease hunger.

Sen. Darryl Jackson, the Richland County Democrat pushing the Senate bill, said South Carolina needs to raise the minimum wage to send a clear message that it is time to break the mindset that hard-working people aren't appreciated.

"I would ask anyone whether they would be able to survive today on what their salary was 10 years ago," he said. "Most people would say no."

A common argument against raising the minimum wage is that it would put a burden on business, particularly small business. But in North Carolina, which this year voted to boost the minimum wage by $1, businesses aren't relocating because of the new law, Jackson said.

In fact, raising the minimum wage might be good for the economy, according to Sue Berkowitz of the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center. Why? Because poor people spend their money on surviving, she said.

"That money gets put into the economy. It gets spent in our state. If wages go up, we will see it helps South Carolina's economy."

State leaders need to consider seriously the proposal to raise the minimum wage to help lift working people out of poverty. It's a practical way to help smooth the rough edges that the working poor experience most of the year. By doing so, there might be plenty of food, a basic necessity, throughout the year, not just during holidays when food banks are overflowing with food.

Send your comments to Andy Brack at brack@statehousereport.com. His book of commentary, Bugging the Palmettos, is available for $15.00. Click here for more.

Recent commentary

lighter side
12/17: A simpler holiday

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:

12/13: Cell phones making her livid

To the editor:

PLEASE TELL me how I can start the paperwork to initiate a cell phone usage bill in SC?? I am livid at the number of people on the phone and NEVER concentrating on driving.

-- Brenda Sweat, North Charleston, S.C.

12/11: Thoughtful piece on voting by mail

To the editor:

I enjoyed your thoughtful column on vote-by-mail. But one question I haven’t heard a good answer for on vote-by-mail is the issue of information asymmetry.

I think you and I would agree the voters should have as much information as possible about the candidates before they vote. And we both know that campaigns often hold information (usually bad or negative information) about their opponent until the last days of an election. Hence there is an information asymmetry.

So my concern has been what happens to someone who voted by mail, but than new information comes to light that changes their mind? They can’t go back and change their vote. It’s the same reason why I have concerns about expanding absentee and early voting.

Any thoughts or arguments to shed some light on my concerns?

-- Jay Ragley, National Federation of Independent Businesses, Columbia, S.C.

Editor's reply: A change should force candidates to get information to the public sooner. The "October surprise" could turn into the "September surprise."

12/11: Other voting ideas

To the editor:

As you point out, Oregon had an easy time doing this due to a lack of past electoral corruption and a high rate of voter interest. It might not be as easy to implement here, but there are certainly some ideas that we need to look at in the meantime:

1) Early Voting: We’ve changed absentee voting rules so that anyone can do it for any reason, so why not open up early voting precinct locations, say the Saturday before an election, especially in rural and suburban counties, where a lot of people have long work commutes which might keep them from voting?

2) Referenda simplification: The ballot questions this year produced long lines as people tried to read and figure this stuff out. The “plain English” explanations were as difficult to read for many voters as the actual legal language, especially in rural areas where voters had a lower level of education. Maybe we need to establish some sort of time limit for referenda questions, maybe by determining an average reading and decision time, and give the Legislature a limit on how much they can put on the ballot, say five or seven minutes.

3) Employer participation: We expect employers to accommodate military service and jury duty. Why not encourage employers to adjust their election day work schedules?

-- Earl Capps, Summerville

12/10: Thoughless column on voting.

South Carolina rates very high in adult illiteracy. Depending on which source you use the number of illiterates is between one fifth and one third. (We don't need to feel like the Lone Ranger on this, either. We are not lapping the pack.)

So you think it would be a good thing if all these people voted? These same people who cannot venture more than 10 miles from home because they cannot read street signs; these same people who cannot read a newspaper; these same people who cannot find the Atlantic Ocean on a globe; these same people who think the Civil War was fought between the Americans and the Redcoats . . . ? You get my point....

I do not encourage people to register or to vote. On Election Day, I pray for sleet and freezing rain driven by high winds to keep this crowd from the polls. I no sooner want to be governed by the types the illiterates elect than I would want Jim Clyburn operating on my gall bladder. He already has his hands in my pockets and that is quite enough.

You should be ashamed of your thoughtless article which you are passing off as reasoned journalism.

-- Ken Fanning, Florence, S.C.

Editor's note: Thank you for your comment. We live in a representative democracy. That means everyone, regardless of their reading level, has the right to vote. Just because someone can't read doesn't mean they're stupid. Someone could read the ballot to them and they could then vote. (They don't have to read to watch TV to learn about candidates.) If you don't like the system, move out of the country.

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