But advocates argue raising the minimum wage will not only help workers make ends meet, but also stimulate the local economy.
“There’s research that shows that increasing minimum wage increases spending, putting money right back into local stores and restaurants,” said Gavin Thornton, executive director of the Hawaiʻi Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice.
Thornton says businesses have been making the same arguments even during times of economic growth. He notes the federal minimum wage was enacted in 1938, during the height of the Great Depression.
“Hawaiʻi’s been losing popluation because people have been having to leave Hawaiʻi since they can’t afford to make ends meet. That is a major problem for Hawaiʻi’s economy that we’ve got to address,” Thornton said. “And the way we do that is by increasing people’s capabilities to make ends meet here by helping to ensure that they have a wage that they can live on.”
“When we last increased the minimum wage, which happened from the period of 2015 to 2018, our state’s unemployment rate dropped by 52% to record lows.”
Thornton says raising the minimum wage would have a positive impact on low wage earners working in a wide range of industries. He says 90% of those earning minimum wage are over the age of 20. Of that, 22% are parents and 43% have received some college education.