A proposal to raise Arkansas’ minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2021 gained enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in November. The group gathered over 16,000 more signatures than necessary to make the ballot.
The current minimum wage is $8.50, and the last time Arkansas voters approved of a minimum wage raise was in 2014. The Arkansas minimum wage is not among the lowest state minimum wages in the country and is higher than many of the states that surround it. Kansas and Oklahoma, for example, have a $7.25 minimum wage, the same as the federal minimum wage. Missouri’s minimum wage is $7.85. Still, supporters of the measure — which will be Issue Five on the ballot this year, according to the Associated Press — say that it’s unacceptable for Arkansas to live on only about $18,000 a year.
Stephen Copley, executive director of Faith Voices Arkansas, said in a release to the Arkansas Times, “Today’s minimum wage is about $18,000 a year for someone working full time. With prices going up all the time, you can’t raise a family on that.”
Some economic policy experts say that the federal minimum wage is far too low. According to the Economic Policy Institute, despite productivity roughly doubling since 1968, workers who are paid the federal minimum wage now make 25 percent less than workers making the federal minimum wage that year. As Rajan Menon recently explained in The Nation, over the past decade, the $7.25 federal minimum wage lost almost 10 percent of its purchasing power, thanks to inflation, which means that for someone to make the same as the 2009 minimum wage, they’d have to work 41 additional days.
A 2016 analysis from the White House Council of Economic Advisors that looked at 18 states that raised the minimum wage above $7.25 found that these raises “contributed to substantial increases in average wages for workers in low-wage jobs, helping to reverse a pattern of stagnant or falling real wages” and that “this has occurred without any sign of an impact on employment or hours worked.”
Arkansans for a Fair Wage is leading the effort behind the initiative. David Couch, a lawyer in Little Rock who leads the ballot committee, told the Arkansas Times that the group raised $155,300 and spent $101,000 to pay canvassers to gather signatures. The Fairness Project, a nonprofit founded for the purpose of getting minimum wage increases on the ballot, gave $100,000 in funding to the group and the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit workers rights group that conducts policy research, gave $500,000. The Fairness Project is also working on a minimum wage initiative in Missouri, and has worked on campaigns for raising the minimum wage in Arizona, Colorado, California, Maine, Washington state and Washington, D.C.
There is also an initiative to get a minimum wage raise on the ballot in Michigan, gradually raising it from $9.25 to $12 in 2022 that is supported by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC). ROC also supported Initiative 77 in Washington, D.C. to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers. Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda have come out in support of the wage increase. In July, the board of state canvassers were deadlocked on approval for the ballot proposal. In Missouri, Proposition B is on the ballot, which would raise the state minimum wage from $7.85 to $12 in 2023. Some of the same organizations support this ballot initiative as the one in Arkansas. The National Employment Law Project and the Fairness Project and local officials and mayors, such as St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, have supported it.