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Reports on Louisiana politics, government and the people shaping state policy.

Proposed $15 State Minimum Wage Clears First Legislative Hurdle, But Faces Uphill Climb Before It Could Become A Reality

Phoebe Jones/WWNO
Louisiana State Capitol

A Louisiana Senate Committee advanced a bill Thursday to establish the state minimum wage at $15 per hour.

Louisiana is one of only five states with no minimum wage of its own, so the state’s lowest earners’ wages are tied to the federal rate of $7.25 per hour. That hasn’t been raised since 2009 and has failed to keep pace with the cost of living.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, an estimated 695,000 Louisianans would get a raise if the bill becomes a law.

That’s a big if. The proposed wage increase cleared the Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on a party-line vote with the committee’s three Democrats voting in favor of the bill and its two Republicans voting against it.

Senator Troy Carter of New Orleans, who sponsored the legislation, said minimum-wage jobs aren’t just for teenagers looking to earn pocket change during their summer break — in many cases, minimum-wage work is the only work available to the breadwinners of Louisiana families.

“In 2021, we have adults — men, women, husbands, fathers, wives, grandmothers, grandfathers — seeking these jobs just to keep the roof over their heads,” Carter said. “The statistics are alarming.”

Jan Moller, executive director of the Louisiana Budget Project, said testifying in favor of the minimum wage increase was “like ‘Groundhog Day.’ ” His organization, which advocates for low- to moderate-income families, has lobbied the state legislature for a minimum wage increase every year for more than a decade, Moller said.

He speculated that raising the hourly minimum wage would have the “broadest positive effect” of any legislation being considered this session.

“When we talk about poverty in this state, we’re not talking about people who won’t work or can’t work,” Moller said. “We’re talking about people who go to work every day and their jobs just don’t pay them enough to lift them into a decent standard of living.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate where Republicans have a supermajority. In recent years, the state GOP and its allies in the business lobby have shot down any attempt to raise the minimum wage.

The same business and industry groups have come out against this year’s effort.

Dawn McVea of the National Federation of Independent Business said 92 percent of the small businesses that make up her organization’s membership oppose an increase in the state minimum wage.

She said a minimum wage increase would further hurt the Louisiana small businesses that are still trying to recover from the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and many businesses would raise prices, cut workers’ hours and turn to part-time labor to compensate for a minimum wage increase.

Jim Patterson of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry echoed those concerns and added that rising wages would push the larger businesses he represents to turn to automation and phase out human labor more quickly.

“We don’t think that this is the best approach to raising wages, we think that the market is the best way to do it,” Patterson said.