Misguided Bill Seeks to Stymie Birmingham’s Effort to Reduce Poverty
The following is a statement from Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project:
“Today, the Alabama state legislature approved legislation that takes away cities’ power to raise the minimum wage on the local level, under the guise of statewide uniformity regarding wage policy. This move is not only regrettable on economic grounds, it is an affront to democracy, as it is a direct response to the City of Birmingham’s enactment of a $10.10 per hour minimum wage and grassroots efforts underway to enact similar legislation in other Alabama cities.
“The state legislature’s refusal to let Birmingham and other cities increase the minimum wage will only worsen workers’ struggles with declining wages and rising living costs, and may cause even more Alabama families to sink deeper into poverty. Over the past several years, the state’s poverty rate has been trending up. Currently, an estimated 18.9 percent of Alabamians live below the poverty line, with over a quarter (27.5 percent) of children living in poverty. In Birmingham, the poverty rate is an outrageous 31.0 percent, with nearly half (49.2 percent) of the city’s children living in poverty.
“This push by the legislature to prohibit cities like Birmingham from setting a minimum wage that better responds to the needs of its communities is regrettable. The fact that all-white caucuses in both chambers of the Alabama state legislature have voted to strip the majority African-American city of Birmingham of the ability to ease the economic misery of its residents is an image that Alabama, an epicenter of fierce battles during the Civil Rights Movement, cannot afford.
“Proponents’ claim that minimum wage is better set by the state legislature is more posturing than policy. Alabama’s state legislature has never adopted a state minimum wage, and indeed, Alabama is one of only five states that does not set its own state level. That Birmingham and other cities would act to address the needs of their own residents is thus not only entirely reasonable; the legislature’s own longstanding inaction makes local action appropriate and necessary.
“Given its economic struggles, Alabama cannot afford to continue to promote policies that hurt working families and undermine efforts to dig out of the economic hole in which it finds itself. Raising the minimum wage puts more money into the pockets of low-wage workers, who spend their increased earnings at local businesses, fueling the consumer spending the economy needs. Twenty-nine states have raised their wages above $7.25, including many that are enjoying faster job growth than Alabama, meaning that any claims that a modest increase in the minimum wage, like Birmingham’s, would cause job loss simply is not the case.
“In the face of state and federal inaction, with a federal minimum wage that has been stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009, more than 30 cities and counties across the country have adopted a local minimum wage to help low-wage workers who have seen their wages stagnate or decline for years. Birmingham made history by being the first city in the Deep South to enact such a law. The vote today by the Alabama state legislature is a slap in the face to this progress.”