WHEELING - West Virginians earning the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour would make an extra $1 an hour by the summer of 2015 under legislation before the West Virginia legislature.
Sen. Jack Yost, D-Brooke, has introduced Senate Bill 411, which proposes a two-step process to raising the minimum wage in West Virginia from the federal rate of $7.25 an hour. Under the measure, the minimum wage for most workers in the state would jump 60 cents to $7.85 an hour this year after June 30, then increase 40-cents to $8.25 per hour after June 30, 2015.
Ohio's minimum wage rose to $7.95 an hour at the start of 2014, making it one of 19 states that have minimum wage rates higher than the federal rate, according to Yost. Yost serves as chairman of the Senate Labor Committee.
"Around the state I see poverty and I see discrimination - especially among women, who make so much less than men," he said. "Sixty percent of school children in West Virginia receive free or subsidized lunches, and we're subsidizing the lunch system because families are not making a living wage. This is about poverty. It's about improving the living wage for people trying to live below poverty level, and who are trying to make ends meet."
Yost set the number of West Virginians employed at minimum wage jobs in the state at between 120,000 and 125,000, and he expects state lawmakers to support legislation affecting so many state residents. He also disputed that raising West Virginia's minimum wage law will result in many low earners losing their jobs.
"From what I've seen in other states, (increasing the minimum wage) hasn't caused a loss of jobs," Yost said. "It's the right thing to do with poverty. It's about children. It's about having food on the table. We just want to help out families with a living wage, and we should do this if we are concerned with working families. I haven't met a poor person in West Virginia, but I've met a lot of proud people living in poverty."
SB 411 is currently before the Senate Labor Committee, and is next slated for the Senate Finance Committee. Similar legislation, House Bill 4283, already has passed the House Industry and Labor committee, and is before the House Finance Committee.
Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, expects the bill to raise the state's minimum wage to pass the legislature before its regular session ends March 8.
"You see the decline of the middle class, and folks struggling to make ends meet," he said. "Not only it it the right thing to do, it helps local economies. The worker who gets the increase turns around and spends money. Every time we've had a minimum wage increase, we've seen an increase in domestic growth and more money circulating through the system."
Kessler also does not believe raising West Virginia's minimum wage will result in fewer low wage hirings.
"I don't - it's a scare tactic used by those in opposition," he said. "There won't be less people working. Every time I'm at McDonalds, I see signs up for more hirings. There are jobs that have to be done, and those folks deserve an opportunity to earn a decent living as well. The people who are willing to get out of bed to support themselves deserve a decent standard of living. This might give them the opportunity to buy a second vehicle, a computer ... or to take an online course that gives them the opportunity to improve themselves."