Minimum wage lags behind times

Nevada's minimum wage is a myth, but a useful one. It reflects the federal minimum wage at $5.15 an hour and, like the federal law, hasn't changed since 1997. But that doesn't mean wages have stayed the same.

As far as we can tell, no one is at minimum wage in the Carson City area. A few jobs are close, such as fast-food workers and people who provide child care, and anyone making less than $7 an hour is going to have a hard time supporting themselves - let alone a family.

According to groups pushing for a higher minimum wage in an initiative to place the issue on the Nevada ballot, as many as 60,000 Nevadans are working for $6.15 an hour or less. Many of those are in rural areas where wages haven't kept pace, although the cost of living remains relatively low as well.

Minimum wages provide a baseline. While few workers would benefit directly from an increase in the law to $6.15 an hour, the Coalition to Give Nevada a Raise clearly expects a higher minimum will drive up wages generally.

That likelihood makes the minimum wage a political issue.

The $5.15 federal minimum is obviously outdated, at least for Nevada. A resurgent economy has made profits and jobs plentiful again.

But shouldn't wages be set by the employer? What consequences would a higher wage have on businesses generally? Because it would have the effect of nudging wages higher, doesn't it also nudge inflation? Would the result be somewhat fewer jobs - albeit low-paying ones - for the people who need those entry-level positions the most?

On the other hand, if Nevada is to have a minimum wage law, shouldn't it reflect reality? Doesn't the government have a responsibility to represent the lowest rungs on the wage ladder, so those people can effectively support themselves? Wouldn't higher wages actually spur economic recovery, as workers rise above mere subsistence?

Our guess is that most people would be willing to vote in favor of a higher minimum wage in Nevada. An unscientific poll on shows better than 2-1 support.

If the initiative does succeed, it would be 2007 before it takes effect - a decade after the last federal increase. If it's not due now, it will be overdue by then.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment