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WHAT WE THINK: Minimum wage bump deserves our support

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We don't know if $10.10 is the right number, but we see the need for an increase.

The concept of paying a more equitable dollar for the lowest-level jobs in our economic scale is not new. This idea of raising the minimum wage was a political football long before President Barack Obama kicked it into the end zone during his State of the Union address and House Bill 1 ran it into the public consciousness of the Kentucky legislature.

And most Kentuckians – if not most Americans – think it’s about time to take that step.

In a recent Bluegrass Poll, almost two out three Kentuckians expressed their support for a legislative plan to increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 cents per hour to $10.10 by 2017.

At a minimum, we think it’s time for a change.

Should the rate be $10.10? We don’t know. That hourly wage has been $7.25 since 2009, and we do know that $15,080 a year is not sufficient to pay for food, housing, transportation, insurance and the other fixed costs of life.

Whether this picture changes should not be a decision based on politics, though we expect it ultimately will be.

That the Democrat-controlled Kentucky House initiated this plan as its top priority made it pretty clear that the Republican-controlled Senate would smack it down, not that all the proponents or opponents are follow-the-leaders members of those respective parties.

No, we think this is a matter of fairness. If the CEO of General Motors can earn $40 million a year, then we think the person who cooks her burgers could be paid $10.10 per hour, which would come to about $21,008 a year for a full-time worker, or hardly enough for an academic year’s tuition, books and housing and meals for many of Kentucky’s 4-year colleges.

Proponents of this law suggest that paying a better minimum wage would prompt more spending and perhaps less debt.

Opponents make strong arguments based on the concept that businesses would be negatively affected and that prices would rise while jobs were cut.

State Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) even suggested there is an alternative way to increase the minimum wage: Employees should work hard and earn raises.

That’s a noble concept, but we question how that works. Not many companies these days give raises without contractual obligations, and those who do keep them right at the rate of inflation. And how many who do give raises would increase a salary by 40 percent simply because a person worked hard and performed well? Not many.

Our economy does not reward hard work like it once did, no matter the job.

Companies cut jobs frequently, for all manner of reasons. Having to pay a decent living wage only gives those firms inclined that way another angle to use in lowering the hatchets.

All of these maneuverings leave in the middle the very group that needs help from all of that, the families of four struggling to feed, clothe and educate children, some forced to live in squalor and require more government aid. Single parents trying to improve the lot of their children, or young, single adults looking to establish themselves in life.

Which brings us to one last point:

With so much outcry – and even a recent significant slice – in our SNAP program (commonly called food stamps), wouldn’t it be great to reduce those in need by simply paying them more on the front end?

That’s what an increase in minimum wage might do, reduce those dependent on the distributions from all of us.

We would be helping our fellow American get on his or her feet and walk a path to success.

And that’s a maximum benefit for this minimum-wage-change idea.