Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.
The evidence is mounting: there is perhaps no issue that transcends ideology like increasing the minimum wage. 86 percent of America supports boosting the federal minimum wage, deeply frustrated that the rate hasn’t budged since 1997. Even in the so-called red states, the minimum wage movement is gaining serious traction.
On April 10th, in Arknasas, Republican Governor Mike Huckabee signed a massive $1.10 state minimum wage increase into law. Arkansas was desperately in need of a wage hike; it currently ranks at the bottom of the nation in median income. But the bill, which takes effect on October 1, will dramatically improve conditions for 127,000 Arkansans, whose wages had long languished at the pathetic federal standard of $5.15 per hour. And contrary to right-wing nonsense, the law won’t just help teenagers working at burger joints; approximately 80% of those affected are over 20 years old.
Spearheading the bill was Give Arkansas a Raise Now (GARN)–a coalition including religious groups, community organizations, and state and local chapters of AFSCME, ACORN, AFL-CIO, and the NAACP. But the public was overwhelmingly supportive as well; in a state that went for Bush by 9 percentage points over Kerry, 87 percent favored a minimum wage increase.
“The victory in Arkansas, like the recent win in Michigan, demonstrates both the popularity of the minimum wage issue and the power of grassroots organizing,” said Jen Kern of ACORN. “People understand this is a simple issue of fairness – a job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it – and elected officials are being forced to respond.”
Arkansas is just the beginning. Ballot drives have kicked off in five other states that voted Bush in 2004–Ohio, Montana, Missouri, Ohio, and Arizona. And Albuquerque–which comprises 25% of New Mexico’s population–just passed a bill that would increase the city’s minimum to $6.75 by next year and $7.50 by 2009. Albuquerque is only the fourth city in the US to do so.
“As grassroots momentum builds in the face of Congressional inaction, no state – no matter how “red” – is off the list,” said Kern.
Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation’s new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.