The Delaware Senate passed legislation that could increase the minimum wage by 50 cents per year over the next four years beginning in June.
Senate Bill 39, sponsored by Sen. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington, passed with an 11- 8 vote in the Senate Wednesday.
It must pass in the House before Gov. Jack Markell, D-Delaware, can sign it into law. The current minimum wage is $8.25 and if legislation passes it would rise to $10.50 in 2020.
“I’m pleased the Delaware State Senate recognized the workers who formed the foundation of our economic pyramid,” Marshall said. “That recognition will go a long way in strengthening those who try to survive and work day to day with families, and in my opinion it’s a proud day for Delaware.”
The bill went through some amendments since it was first introduced in March, and Wednesday marked the second day of debates between Democrats and Republicans before voting in favor of the legislation.
“I think this dramatic increase in minimum wage would limit job opportunities for lots of folks in Delaware, and I understand the philosophy for trying to support it, but I think by limiting opportunities we are going to be hurting the folks this bill is intended to support,” said Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover.
Some business owners, particularly in the restaurant and agriculture industry, have expressed opposition to the bill, saying it would hurt business.
“What I’m wondering is, is business that robust in Delaware that any business can stand the labor increase of six percent a year accumulating to 24 percent?” said Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford. “The business community hasn’t been robust, and I think we should keep that in mind.”
Marshall refutes the argument that minimum wage raises hurt businesses.
“The reality is all the empirical evidence after we’ve raised our hourly minimum wage in increments has never had an adverse impact on economic growth and on increases in our population regarding our employment base,” he said.
Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, a co-sponsor of the bill who used to work for the Department of Labor, said following every minimum wage increase the number of workers in the restaurant industry has increased by 1,725 workers.
“And yet for 40 years we’ve been hearing if we raise the minimum wage people are going to lose their jobs—well it hasn’t happened yet,” she said.
Another argument among Republicans was that minimum wage is meant for young people and those starting their careers.
“Is it not better to get them started on this employment ladder to learn responsibility so they can advance in life?” said David Lawson, R-Marydel.
“As long as they’re given freebies, as long as they can live at home and be on their parents’ insurance until 26 years of age, they don’t learn responsibility,” he said.
Peterson retorted to the argument, citing statistics that show 75 percent of minimum wage earners are adults, 60 percent are women and 62 percent are single parents and singles who support themselves on minimum wage.
“The [minimum wage raise] would lift six million people above poverty level,” she said. “One in five kids in Delaware will go to bed hungry tonight, which is a disgrace in a civilized society.”