Alabama’s workers deserve a raise

Published 4:24 pm Monday, April 29, 2019

The minimum wage in Alabama has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. Since then, costs have gone up 17 percent, making it nearly impossible for working families to make ends meet. 

Voters sent this Democratic majority to Congress with a clear mandate to raise the federal minimum wage and provide better economic opportunities and security for working Americans and their families. All Democrats – progressives and moderates – agree that we must raise the minimum wage and are committed to determining the best path forward in a respectful and collaborative manner. 

To be clear: Alabamians deserve more than $7.25 an hour. That is why I have introduced legislation to raise the minimum wage in Alabama from $7.25 to $10.20 an hour by 2021 and increase incrementally going forward.

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While my proposal is just one approach to achieving this goal, and there are a variety of ideas about how to improve the economic security of low-wage workers, Democrats’ strength lies in the diversity of perspectives that each Member brings to the table.

In my hometown of Selma, Alabama, the median household income is less than $25,000. I represent dozens of communities like Selma, where decades of factory closures and subsequent job loss have left generations behind.

I hear from Alabamians every day who struggle to put food on the table, let alone send their children to college or begin to save for retirement. No matter how hard they work, they can’t seem to get ahead. The status quo is unacceptable.

Although some state legislatures have approved legislation to raise state wage floors, Alabama has done the opposite, squashing the City of Birmingham’s attempts to increase its minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. That means as states around the country enact higher minimum wages, Alabamians are being left further and further behind. It also means hourly Alabama workers are unlikely to be guaranteed a raise unless the federal government acts.

With that said, small businesses are the lifeblood of communities in Alabama’s 7th District and across the country and they are often the primary source of economic opportunity for workers in distressed neighborhoods and minority communities.

I am committed to backing a minimum wage proposal that gives workers a much-needed raise in a way that both protects hardworking Alabamians and these small businesses. I have heard from small business owners in my district who want to provide their workers with a livable wage but fear abrupt changes to their overhead costs might have the unintended consequence of forcing them to lay off workers or close altogether. What’s more, the communities most likely to feel the brunt of rapid changes in the labor market are in rural areas or minority communities where too often jobs are already scarce – areas just like Alabama’s Black Belt.

In addition to a higher minimum wage, I am supportive of broader policy proposals that expand opportunity and economic security, including improving our schools and workforce training, expanding access to quality, affordable health insurance, increasing housing options and incentivizing Governor Ivey and the state legislature to expand Medicaid.

Congress must be clear-eyed and laser-focused on uniting behind comprehensive and pragmatic solutions to address the systemic issues facing American workers. A smarter, higher minimum wage is a critical step in the right direction. 

U.S. Rep. Terri A. Sewell represents Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.