Imagine coming home after working a ten hour shift at a minimum wage job. Its pay day, but you’re stuck having to make a tough decision for your family. Your rent is due, you’re running low on groceries for the week, the car you use to get to work is on empty, and your daughter needs a new pair of shoes. With all of these competing and essential needs, what do you choose? Do you wait to get your children the pair of shoes they desperately need and put gas in the vehicle you need to get you to and from work? Do you pay the rent and stretch out ramen and potato chips for the week?
Thousands and thousands of hardworking Arkansans must make hard decisions like this every single day and they shouldn’t have to make those choices. So, when we talk about the need for “a living wage,” we’re talking about making sure that every day Arkansans make enough money to meet their basic, daily needs.
This problem isn’t new; it’s just gotten worse over time and continues to hurt low- and moderate-income families. Over the past 30 years, the cost of things we need like groceries, gas, and clothing have skyrocketed, but wages in Arkansas haven’t. Because wages have been flat since the late 1970s, more than ever, every day Arkansans and their families have to make tougher choices.
We often hear on the news about how unemployment has decreased and how wages have increased over time. More people may have jobs, but most aren’t getting enough hours or wages to support their families. The general wage increase we hear about has actually been captured by the rich and not the average person. In a recent Talk Poverty discussion, economist Jared Bernstein mentioned that between 2009-2012, 95 percent of real income growth was captured by the top one percent of earners in America. Recent reports by AACF on the minimum wage and income inequality paint a picture of what that looks like in Arkansas.
Yes, this problem is big and affects many Arkansans. But, it can be fixed – through policy choices. We recommend four policy changes that will bring us steps closer to giving everyone a chance in earning a living wage:
- Raise Arkansas’s minimum wage. You as a voting citizen have the power to make this into a reality by voting on ballot issue number 5 between now and November 4th.
- Enact a state earned income tax credit that gives relief to low wage earners
- Invest in programs – like education – that build skills to help increase social mobility
- Strengthen the unemployment insurance system
By doing these things, we will put Arkansas on a better path of making sure that ALL its working residents can make a living wage and take care of their families.