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North Carolina raises minimum wage

RALEIGH – On July 13, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley signed into a law a $1 increase in the state’s minimum wage.

The new law, which goes into effect on January 1 2007, will increase the minimum wage to $6.15 per hour and will apply to all employers in the state.

The current Federal minimum wage is still $5.15 per hour, and until Governor Easley signed the new bill, North Carolina had not had an increase in the minimum wage since the federal government increased the rate to $5.15 in 1997.

Easley said that part of his rationale for agreeing to the rate increase was because he wanted North Carolina to shed its image as a sleepy southern state.

&uot;This increase is necessary to help many North Carolinians cope with the rising cost of transportation, health care, housing and other basic needs,&uot; Easley said. &uot;Our state’s economy is now driven by higher paying jobs requiring higher levels of education. We must help our citizens manage their finances to better take advantage of the resources which we have available.&uot;

The bill took several forms before it managed to pass in both legislative bodies.

North Carolina Senator Robert Holloman D-4th praised the new bill.

&uot;This wage increase has been a long time coming,&uot; Holloman said. &uot;The cost of living in North Carolina has continued to increase but the minimum wage has not kept pace.&uot;

Holloman, speaking by telephone on Friday, said that his district is one that has been affected most by price increases in gasoline and other life necessities.

&uot;The current commercial climate, really effects people who live below the poverty level,&uot; Holloman stated. &uot;We are seeing a whole generation of citizens falling deeper into debt.&uot;

Opponents of the bill were concerned that the increase in the minimum wage would have a backlash among small businesses that might be forced to cut some jobs in order to accommodate the new pay raises.

Holloman disagrees with that assertion.

&uot;I don’t see where this increase will negatively effect the overall business environment,&uot; he stated. &uot; I believe that one of the components to having efficient, productive workers is the dignity and self respect an employee gets from making a decent wage.&uot;

Holloman said that the previous minimum wage only exacerbated the welfare state that many poor communities had become.

&uot;How are we going to move people into the workforce when they can stay at home and collect more money from social programs than they could from working?&uot; Holloman reasoned. &uot;Everybody cannot be rich or middle class, but everyone should be given an opportunity to succeed.&uot;

The North Carolina House of Representatives defeated a $1-per-hour increase in June, 2005, but House leaders revived it when they combined an 85-cent increase, combined with a small business health insurance tax credit. The current bill doesn’t contain the credit, which was approved in this year’s budget.