The Federal Reserve reported last week that family incomes declined nationwide between 2001 and 2004 when adjusted for inflation. A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released earlier this month found that the gap between the rich and poor is increasing more rapidly in West Virginia than in almost any other state. Further, the income of the poorest 20% in West Virginia is only $13,208, the lowest in the nation.
That's the bad news. The good news is that one concrete measure to improve that situation advanced last Friday in the state House of Delegates. The House Judiciary Committee recommended passage of HB 4023 by the full House. This bill would raise the state minimum wage to $5.85 in June 2006, $6.55 in June 2007, and $7.25 in June 2008. The bill contains exemptions for businesses with six or fewer employees and some occupations. An interim committee of the legislature studied the increase after last year's legislative session.
Marion County delegates Tim Manchin and Mike Caputo took the lead on this issue. A similar bill, SB 146, has been introduced in the state Senate. If the bill is going to advance there, it will have to be soon.
A number of state organizations support the increase, including the WV Council of Churches, the AFL-CIO, the American Friends Service Committee, WV Interfaith Center for Public Policy, the WV Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the Service Employees International Union, the Legislative Action Team for Children and Families (an umbrella organization of several family advocacy groups), WV Citizen Action, the Direct Action Welfare Group and many others.
Organizing efforts in West Virginia have connections with the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign, a national effort to raise the minimum wage at the state and federal level. For more information, check www.letjusticeroll.org
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED