In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Barack Obama called for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage, and Chattanoogans have contrasting opinions about the issue.
The current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and Obama proposed raising it to $9 an hour and automatically adjust it with inflation.
Obama’s proposal to increase minimum wage to $9 an hour would be complete by 2015, and connecting minimum wage to inflation means that it would increase with the cost of living, according to The New York Times.
If passed, it would impact about 15 million low-income workers, and a $9 minimum wage would make it the highest in three decades, taking into consideration inflation. But it would still be lower than it was in the ’60s and ’70s, according to The New York Times.
The issue is a politically divisive one considering the fragile state of the economy, and local residents voiced strong feelings about it Wednesday morning.
Madison Keizer, business management major at Southern Adventist University, said now is the worst time to consider raising minimum wage.
“I do not have a problem with raising the wage floor with inflation in normal circumstances,” she said via email. “We are not in normal circumstances; we are in a time of unusually high unemployment rates. Raising the wage floor along with raising taxes on the higher-income bracket is only going to provide less jobs when we need to be providing more.”
Keizer argued that raising minimum wage would also raise the unemployment rate, which is already high at 7.8 percent. She said that company leaders will hire fewer employees, which will lead to decreased production.
The wage needs to be increased eventually because of inflation, but not now, she said.
“By increasing the wage floor, we are making it even more difficult for those who are less qualified to obtain a job,” she said. “We are not paying them more; we’re paying some more and not hiring others who would have previously been hired as well.”
Chattanooga-area resident Kayce Foote argued that raising the minimum wage will encourage people to work harder.
But local resident Michael Daily argued that raising it doesn’t encourage people to work harder.
“The possibility to earn more is what motivates them,” he said via Twitter.
And another area resident, Joshua L. Brooks, said raising the minimum wage would lead to economic growth because it can empower individuals to resolve personal debt problems.
“If these minimum-wage workers are in a constant spiral of going into greater debt to simply fulfill needs, as opposed to those of us that have the luxury of using our debt to fund wants, then how can there be any large amount of economic turnover?” he said. “One needs to have some semblance of a disposable income in order to increase personal spending.”
Chattanooga resident Chip Horton said he doesn’t understand people who oppose raising the minimum wage.
“You’ve got to be a pretty heartless to oppose a raise in minimum wage-like Scrooge before the ghosts came over that time,” he said via Twitter. “With small things like the cost of living and inflation and stuff, how could any decent human oppose?”