Democrats, low-income workers and union representatives argued Monday that lawmakers should raise state minimum wages 75 cents each of the next five years to match Nevada’s economic growth.
Nevada minimum wages are tied to the cost of living and the federal minimum, but they haven’t increased in seven years. They are currently set at $7.25 an hour for people whose employers offer health insurance or $8.25 an hour for people without that benefit.
The proposal would increase those wages until they reached $11 hourly for workers offered insurance and $12 hourly for those without.
Supporters are calling Senate Bill 106 a compromise compared with another Democratic measure that proposes raising the minimum wages to $14 and $15 an hour over the next six years. Because wages haven’t increased as Nevada continues to climb out of the 2008 recession, supporters say the state should raise the minimum wage to help people struggling to make ends meet.
“There are hardworking families in every corner of the state who don’t make enough to support their families on their own,” said Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas.
Republicans and business owners say a wage hike would hurt businesses and drive up inflation, burdening workers and ultimately wiping out the effect of bigger paychecks.
Nevada has halved unemployment since 2011, benefitting recently from business development in the north — including the Tesla Gigafactory — and renewed growth in Last Vegas.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows 20,000 Nevadans were paid at or below the state and federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour in 2015. That’s about one-tenth of 1 percent of the 1.38 million workers in Nevada and 2.5 percent of hourly workers.
“Because it’s such a small pool of workers, any arguments for why we shouldn’t do it on behalf of big businesses require a clear indication that they would in fact be adversely affected,” Cancela said, asking employers to provide more data on what they pay people.
Raising the minimum wage would inevitably affect workers who make more dollars per hour, but to what degree is unclear.
Those who want to increase wages argued higher earning potential would outweigh higher business costs and economic ramifications. Opponents aren’t so sure.
“The reality is none of us really know what is going to happen five or six years from now if you raise these wages because it’s only been two years since most of these laws have been implemented in other cities,” Randi Thompson, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, told lawmakers Monday.
Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, said bordering states that promise higher wages could draw workers away from Nevada.
California is raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2023, and Arizona is moving toward $12 an hour.
Nationally, only six states and the District of Columbia currently set a minimum wage above the federal floor, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Increases have been proposed in 33 states this year.