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Arkansans to Vote on Proposed Minimum-Wage Increase

Backers say an initiative on the midterm election ballot to raise the minimum wage in Arkansas would benefit the entire state economy. (Pixabay)
Backers say an initiative on the midterm election ballot to raise the minimum wage in Arkansas would benefit the entire state economy. (Pixabay)
November 5, 2018

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — For the second time in five years, Arkansas voters will get the chance to increase the state's minimum wage on Election Day. Issue 5 on Tuesday's ballot, if approved, would raise the base pay for Arkansas workers from the current $8.50 an hour to $11 an hour by 2021.

Jonathan Schleifer, executive director with The Fairness Project, one of several groups supporting the wage increase, said economists have found that raising wages brings benefits across the entire economy.

"We know that when low-wage workers see increases in their wages, that money gets put directly back into the local economy,” Shleifer said. “When you're having to choose between paying the rent and buying groceries and suddenly you can do both then your landlord is better off, the local grocery store is better off. And we sort of see that consistently throughout the economy."

If passed, the measure would mean a raise for 300,000 Arkansans - about 1-in-4 workers in the state.

Backers, through the political-action committee Arkansans for a Fair Wage, have spent about $1.5 million. A group of mainly business owners, Arkansans for a Better Economy, oppose the measure, calling it a "job killer."

Issue 5 would build on a similar initiative passed in 2014 that raised the state's minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 in 2018. Schleifer said it's not just an economic issue but a human rights issue, as well.

"No one who works full-time should need food stamps to feed their family,” he said. “And we need to raise the minimum wage so hard-working single moms can afford to pay rent and put food on the table without worrying about sliding into bankruptcy."

He said in the current political climate, there is little chance that lawmakers would raise wages.

"We know that the political system is broken, and we can't rely on politicians who are often limited by partisanship or ideology in politics,” Schleifer said. “Voters need to take it into their own hands to ensure that they have a wage that they can afford to pay the rent and feed their family."

A Hendrix College Poll taken in mid-September found 60 percent of likely Arkansas voters support the wage-hike proposal.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR