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Arkansas' working families get long-overdue raise
Little Rock, Ark., April 10, 2006 – A $1.10 increase in the Arkansas Minimum Wage that was urged by the National Council of Churches’ “Let Justice Roll” and by a faith coalition led by a United Methodist pastor has been signed into law by Gov. Mike Huckabee.
"The people of Arkansas in overwhelming numbers agreed that raising the minimum wage was the right thing to do," said the Rev. Steve Copley, who spearheaded the coalition to persuade the legislature to take action. "The polls showed that Arkansans believe it is wrong for anyone who works hard and plays by the rules to earn a wage so low that they are in poverty.”
“Let Justice Roll,” the national interfaith community that is campaigning for minimum wage increases in several states and at the federal level, was organized by the NCC.
The new law overwhelmingly passed the 135-member Arkansas Legislature with only three votes in opposition. Arkansas is the first state in the South in which the Legislature has voted to increase the state minimum wage above the federal level of $5.15 an hour.
Effective October 1 this year, the hourly minimum wage in Arkansas will rise from $5.15 to $6.25-a 21 percent increase. The new law raises the yearly earnings of minimum wage workers in Arkansas by $2,288 a year. An estimated 127,000 working Arkansans will benefit from the increase. Research shows that 80 percent of those who will benefit are age 20 or older and 53 percent work full-time.
An increase in the minimum wage was long overdue. In the eight and a half years since the last increase, the minimum wage lost 17 percent of its purchasing power and was at its lowest buying power in all but one of the last 50 years.
The increase came less than four months after “Give Arkansas A Rai$e Now,” a coalition of more than two dozen faith, nonprofit and community groups, announced a campaign to raise the state minimum wage through an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution. Copley stressed that raising the minimum wage was both a moral issue and one of economic justice.
Polling late last year showed that 87 percent of Arkansans support raising the state minimum wage, which, like the federal minimum wage, hadn't been increased since 1997. The groundswell of grassroots support for the coalition's efforts played a key role in persuading the Legislature to approve this minimum wage increase, Copley said last week when the bill passed.
"This is truly a moral issue, a faith issue and a family values issue. Our faith traditions teach that we should be concerned about people as they seek to make a living and about those who struggle each and every day just to make ends meet," Copley said.
The coalition agreed to end its campaign to get the constitutional amendment on the November ballot provided the Legislature approved and the governor signed into law the agreed-upon minimum wage increase. The minimum wage increase will take effect three months earlier than the constitutional amendment had it been approved by voters.
The proposed amendment would have increased the minimum wage by $1 an hour and indexed the wage annually for the cost of living.
"The most important thing was that we got the wage increased and that working people started getting more money," Copley said.
When the campaign was formally launched on Dec. 12, 2005, the emphasis was on how raising the minimum wage is an issue of faith, morals and family values.
At a news conference at Christ Episcopal Church, Little Rock, on Jan. 19, 2006, leaders from a variety of faith traditions stressed the moral importance of raising Arkansas' minimum wage. Among those who spoke at this event was the Rev. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, a United Methodist Pastor and a leader in the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign.
"’Give Arkansas A Rai$e Now’ is proud to have played a part in bringing this important issue to the forefront of public attention," Copley said. "The hard-working volunteers who took time out of their busy lives to help circulate petitions and spread the word about why a minimum wage increase was so important are the real heroes of this grassroots effort."
The coalition partners in “Give Arkansas A Rai$e Now” are:
Individuals from the following faith traditions: African Methodist Episcopal Zion; Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Episcopal Church; Jewish; National Baptist Convention USA; Presbyterian Church; Roman Catholic Church; Unitarian Universalist Church; United Church of Christ; and the United Methodist Church.
Southern Good Faith Fund
Contact: NCC News, Daniel Webster, 212-870-2252.
Arkansas file photo.
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