Delaware lawmakers renew push for $15 minimum wage

After both of Delaware’s Democratic U.S. senators voted against adding a $15 minimum wage measure to the stimulus, local advocates are renewing their push.

The Delaware State House in Dover. (Tom Byrne/Delaware Public Media)

The Delaware State House in Dover. (Tom Byrne/Delaware Public Media)

A coalition of business groups and politicians spoke Monday during a virtual event in favor of a $15 minimum wage in Delaware.

Legislation introduced by Sen. Jack Walsh would gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.

Delaware is one of 30 states that sets its own minimum wage above the federal standard. The wage increased from $8.25 in 2015 to $9.25 in 2020. However, many efforts to increase the state’s minimum wage over the years have struggled.

“Someone who puts in a hard day’s work deserves to earn enough to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. Frankly, they deserve what previous generations of low-wage earners have had — a living wage,” Walsh said during the event.

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The local lawmaker spoke just days after U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware voted against adding a federal minimum wage increase into the federal stimulus bill. They were among only six Democrats to do so. The move would have raised the federal minimum from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour over five years.

Walsh did not address Carper and Coons’ decision, but took the time to criticize GOP U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota.

Legislation introduced by state Sen. Jack Walsh would increase Delaware’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. (ZOOM/screengrab)

“[Thune] said he opposed a $15 minimum wage because when he was a teenager, he earned just $6 an hour in the ‘70s,” Walsh said. “Well, guess what, Senator? That’s $24 an hour when adjusted for inflation today. Yet corporate interests continue to band together to keep the minimum wage in Delaware so low that people have no hopes of getting ahead no matter how hard they work.”

The current federal minimum wage has not been adjusted in more than a decade. President Joe Biden made raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour a part of his platform during the presidential campaign.

The Economic Policy Institute reports that women and people of color are most impacted by low wages in the U.S. The nonprofit states that 59% of low-wage earners are women, while nearly one-third of African Americans and one-quarter of Latinos would get a raise if the federal minimum wage were increased to $15. More than half of minimum-wage earners work full-time, the nonprofit reports.

The National Low-Income Housing Coalition estimates the average minimum wage earner must work nearly 97 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom rental home, or 79 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom rental home at the average fair market rent.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimated that Delaware’s living wage for a single household with no children should be $15.32.

“Here in Delaware, a person working 40 hours a week at $9.25 an hour earns $19,240 a year or $1,480 a month before taxes,” Walsh said.

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“The average two-bedroom apartment in Delaware cost $1,142 a month. That leaves $338 [a month] or just $84 a week for groceries, medicine, car insurance and other necessities. That’s just not cutting it.”

Various groups representing Delaware workers spoke in favor of the legislation, while residents shared their personal experiences.

Tracey Thuo, a 39-year-old single woman in Delaware, said raising the minimum wage would help her because she works 20 hours a week, and her take home pay is about $200 after paying rent, electric and phone bills, medication and transportation.

“It’s really a struggle, and I’m working from paycheck to paycheck. Not able to work overtime really makes it harder,” she said. “The more hours you work, the higher your rent goes up. And that’s making me be afraid of losing my place, because I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent. That’s the main issue in my mind.”

Sara Pujols spoke during an online event to push for an increase in Delaware’s minimum wage. She said raising the minimum wage would benefit her as bills and food costs increase. (ZOOM/screengrab)

Sara Pujols also said raising the minimum wage would benefit her as bills and food costs increase. She said she was disappointed to hear Coons and Carper did not vote for the federal wage increase.

“The cost of medical insurance and medical bills and the cost of prescriptions continue to go up as well,” Pujols said through a translator. “We ask our representatives here in the state of Delaware to please pass the $15 dollar legislation here for the state of Delaware. We’re asking you or begging you, this is something that needs to happen.”

Those opposed to minimum wage increases argue that businesses can’t afford to increase wages, especially during a pandemic. They argue that will lead to fewer available jobs. But Walsh counters that because his proposal does not go into effect this year, business owners will have time to plan and prepare well ahead of any increase taking effect.

Some business leaders say raising the minimum wage could boost the economy because people will have more money to spend.

Courtney Sunborn from Businesses for Fair Minimum Wage said her business Ecolistic Cleaning has high morale because it pays workers livable wages.

“So for us, by paying livable wages, we’ve seen that it increases both employee commitment and reliability, but it also decreases turnover, and turnover has proven for many to be so expensive. And so for me, from that perspective, it makes incredible business sense. I do believe that low-wage businesses have a higher turnover and they don’t take into account the time and money that they could save if they were to raise their minimum wages,” she said.

“I do think it’s also shortsighted … not seeing that lower turnover brings increased morale and productivity and therefore happiness for customers.”

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