Advocates urge larger minimum wage hike

HILO — The Senate Committee on Labor will hold a public hearing today regarding a bill that would increase minimum wage rates throughout the state.

House Bill 1191, which would incrementally raise the minimum wage in Hawaii to $15 an hour by 2024, has successfully passed the House and will face its first Senate committee today.

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The bill calls for yearly increases in the hourly minimum wage, raising it from the current $10.10 an hour to $12 per hour in 2020, and from then on increasing it by $1 each year.

The hourly minimum wage for employees who receive health coverage through their employers would be subject to a smaller increase — rising to $10.50 an hour in 2020 and increasing by $0.50 each year until capping at $12.50 per hour in 2024.

At previous hearings in the House, the bill received significant opposition from business interests, but substantially more support from others. Supporters cited research that increases to minimum wages do not substantially harm businesses — often quite the contrary.

Meanwhile, supporters argued that even though wages have increased recently, the cost of living also has increased at a greater rate.

“Between 2015 and 2018, when the minimum wage in Hawaii rose by 39 percent, our state’s unemployment rate dropped by 52 percent. And since the minimum wage started rising in 2015, there was an increase in restaurant server jobs of 22 percent,” wrote a spokesperson for the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice in February.

However, others believe that a $15 per hour wage is insufficient, instead calling for a $17 per hour wage.

Scores of supporters wrote that the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism found that Honolulu workers would need to make $17 an hour to be self-sufficient in 2019, and requested that the bill be amended to instead raise the wages to $17 an hour for uninsured employees and $14 for insured employees.

Advocates for the $17 wage met with lawmakers earlier this week to discuss a possible amendment to the bill.

“A parent who can afford child care, a teacher who can focus on the children in the classroom instead of worrying about rushing to a second job — that’s what a living wage will help deliver,” said Big Island resident Jennifer Kagiwada in a statement.

After their meeting, advocates said that many lawmakers would support a $17 an hour proposal if one was brought to the floor.

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Today’s hearing will take place at 2:45 p.m. in Honolulu.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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