The Arkansas minimum wage experiment

The Arkansas minimum wage experiment

Louisiana is one of only five states without a minimum wage law on its books - this despite years of effort by Gov. John Bel Edwards and many others to pass a modest increase and numerous polls showing strong public approval. Directly north in Arkansas it’s a very different story.

Number of the Day

68.7  - Minimum wage as a percentage of median wage in Arkansas in 2021, when that state’s minimum wage will climb to $11 an hour. That’s the highest percentage in the country. (Source: The Washington Post)

Louisiana is one of only five states without a minimum wage law on its books – this despite years of effort by Gov. John Bel Edwards and many others to pass a modest increase and numerous polls showing strong public approval. Directly north in Arkansas it’s a very different story. Voters there overwhelmingly agreed last week to raise the state minimum wage from $8.50 to $11 per hour by 2021. It’s not the highest minimum wage in the country. But $11 in Arkansas goes farther than $15 in California, which means Arkansas’ wage floor will soon be the nation’s highest when measured against the local cost of living and the state’s median wage. The Washington Post’s Heather Long has more:

By 2021, a minimum wage worker in Arkansas will earn nearly 70 percent as much as the median worker in the state, according to analysis by Jeremy Horpedahl, assistant professor of economics at the University of Central Arkansas. For that to be true in the District of Columbia, the minimum wage would have to be $23 an hour. … Now, Arkansas has set up a large-scale test case: Will the pay hike lift people out of poverty in the sixth poorest state? Or will it be a “job killer” as popular Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson warned? About 300,000 workers are expected to get raises because of the changes.

The ballot initiative passed with 68 percent of the vote in a conservative state that has turned deep red in recent years, along with the rest of the South. But the result should not be a surprise, as voters around the country have been remarkably consistent when it comes to raising the minimum wage.

Ballot initiatives across the country to raise the minimum wage in states and cities have passed with broad public support. There hasn’t been a single loss on this issue since 1996, so some were not surprised to see the result in Arkansas. But what makes Arkansas stand out is that no other red state has gone this high.

 

Jail is not a mental hospital
Louisiana is a bad place to be mentally ill. The state has closed hundreds of inpatient beds over the past decade due to budget cuts, and court-supervised outpatient programs that were supposed to replace them have also withered due to lack of money. It’s why Louisiana ranks 45th nationally in access to mental health care, according to an advocacy group. But a judge in St. Tammany Parish has tried to help with a Behavioral Health Court, which tries to connect criminal defendants who are mentally ill with needed supports and services. Now an effort is underway to do something similar in New Orleans. The Nola.com/The Times-Picayune editorial board:

On Sept. 24, the New Orleans group presented their plans to a City Council committee and asked for $100,000 to fund a monitor to coordinate the AOT program. That should be doable. The council ought to consider how much less expensive it will be to provide this support than to have these patients end up in jail. There also are great risks in locking up someone who needs mental health care. And the Orleans Justice Center has been especially inept at providing that care.

 

Setting the record straight on Medicaid
There are some right-wing myths that simply won’t die. One is that government safety-net programs promote idleness; another that the federal War on Poverty was a failure. Both claims are false, as letter writer Michael Hale eloquently explains in The Advocate:

Two-thirds of all people who receive government benefits fall into one of three groups — children (too young to work), the elderly (too old to work) or the disabled (unable to work). Of the other third of beneficiaries, two-thirds of them work already. The only other group consists of folks who are mostly between jobs. … The “War on Poverty” was launched by Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In 2014, The Washington Post published an article commemorating the 50th anniversary of the birth of these social programs. That article stated that the poverty rate in the United States of America dropped from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2012. Furthermore, the writer said without reservation that “Government action is literally the only reason we have less poverty in 2012 than we did in 1967.”

 

Praise for cabinet secretaries
Louisiana recently set a record for the highest number of foster child adoptions in a 12-month period, with 912 children finding permanent family homes between October 2017 and the end of September. That’s up from 771 children the previous year. Meanwhile, the state continues to benefit from the expansion of Medicaid, with more than 450,000 adults gaining health coverage and the state’s uninsured rate dropping to a record low. The inimitable Jim Beam of the Lake Charles American-Press writes that two gubernatorial appointees – Marketa Walters at the Department of Children and Family Services and Dr. Rebekah Gee at the Louisiana Department of Health – deserve much of the credit.

Both Walters and Gee are well-qualified and have compiled unequalled records in both their departments. There are critics, but that goes with the territory. Neither woman has let it detract from their responsibilities. Leaders in DCFS are celebrating the new adoption record, but they aren’t resting on their laurels. Walters said there are still 140 children across the state that are eligible for adoption without a placement identified. “We really, really would like them to have a home for the holidays,” she said. “That’s always a push around here because that’s such a sacred time for family.” Many thanks for the caring attitudes expressed by Walters and Gee. The state is fortunate to have both in leadership roles.

 

Number of the Day
68.7  – Minimum wage as a percentage of median wage in Arkansas in 2021, when that state’s minimum wage will climb to $11 an hour. That’s the highest percentage in the country. (Source: The Washington Post)