HAZARD—In an effort to push public and private employers to follow his lead, Gov. Steve Beshear visited the Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center in Hazard last week to celebrate the increase in wages for some of the Commonwealth’s lowest paid government workers.
“When people work hard at a full-time job, they should have enough money to live on. Right now, at minimum wage, they don’t,” Beshear said on Friday.
The governor announced on June 8, that starting on July 1, around 510 executive branch state workers would see an increase in their minimum wage salaries—from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour—and another 269 who currently earn $10 would see a small raise. This new policy, he told the workers at the veterans center, would affect more than 30 employees at the center.
Beshear said that of those employees seeing the biggest raise in wages, around one third work for the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, which includes workers at veterans nursing homes.
“Hundreds of state government workers are caring for our veterans in nursing homes, maintaining our parks system and helping our adults with mental disabilities for about $15,000 a year. That’s a disgrace. Raising their pay is a moral imperative,” Beshear said.
Beshear explained that raising the wages of these employees would cost around $1.6 million, less than $800,000 of which will be coming from the General Fund.
“The irony here—and it’s an appalling irony—is that the people we have tasked with the difficult job of caring for our vulnerable populations are paid so little that they too are vulnerable—at least when it comes to financial security,” he added.
Heather French Henry, Kentucky Department for Veterans Affairs commissioner, was also on hand on Friday in Hazard.
“We are excited about the positive impact this wage increase provides to our employees, all of whom are vital in our mission to take care of our veterans,” Henry said. “This also allows us to offer competitive wages in the marketplace, improving out ability to recruit and retain quality staff.”
The governor’s office provided a list of myths and facts related to the increase in minimum wage in the state:
Myth: Raising the minimum wage causes job loss.
Fact: A 2009 meta-analysis of 64 economic studies found that the minimum wage had no negative impacts on employment. Furthermore, the 13 states that raised their minimum wages at the beginning of 2014 added jobs at a faster pace than those states that did not.
Myth: Raising the minimum wage benefits primarily teen-agers.
Fact: 87.5 percent of the people who would benefit from raising the minimum wage are over the age of 20. More than a third – 34.5 percent – of minimum wage earners are over the age of 40.
Myth: Most people who make the minimum wage work part time.
Fact: More than half of minimum wage earners (53 percent) work full-time, and more than 85 percent work at least 20 hours a week.
Myth: People working for the minimum wage live in households with sufficient income.
Fact: Almost 69 percent of minimum wage earners live in households whose total income is below the U.S. median family income.
Myth: Raising the minimum wage will hurt restaurants.
Fact: Of the 10 states predicted by the National Restaurant Association to have the fastest restaurant industry growth, six of those states have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum.
“I call on every business leader and local government to take a hard look at the facts. Paying out people a living wage isn’t a fiscal backbreaker, and the impacts will be extraordinarily beneficial,” Beshear said.
Amelia Holliday can be reached at 606-436-5771, or on Twitter @HazardHerald.