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Coalition seeks to raise minimum wage in Georgia

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

In light of a recent increase in the federal minimum wage, a statewide organization is striving to remind Georgia lawmakers and residents the amount has not changed for state workers.

The Georgia Minimum Wage Coalition is currently engaged in efforts to raise Georgia's minimum wage, which remains at $5.15 despite a federal rate increase from $5.85 to $6.55.

Cindia Cameron serves as co-chair of the coalition, and said the group's efforts have changed somewhat since forming in 2002. "Our focus then was on a living-wage ordinance for people with jobs created directly with taxpayer money in Atlanta," she said. "Our goal [now] is to raise the lowest-tier workers' wage to minimum requirements."

The state's minimum wage has not changed since 2001. The most recent effort by the coalition to change that, took place in 2007 when the group introduced a proposal to raise the state wage to equal its federal counterpart, which is gradually being raised to $7.25 by July 2009.

The coalition's measure was presented to the state legislature in January of this year, but was unsuccessful.

Still, Cameron said she remains undaunted in her quest to seek better pay for low-wage workers. She said she plans to talk with lawmakers in the state about the possibility of raising the state minimum wage above the federal amount, to $8 an hour.

Such a hike, she said, would help to cover the rising cost of basic necessities, and benefit more people than just those earning the state minimum. "We see the increase as an economic stimulus," said Cameron. "Everybody benefits when low-wage workers have more money. It generates ... activity across the state."

In addition to appealing to legislators, the coalition is working together with labor organizations and the faith-based community in the state, to generate support for their cause.

One of the group's partners is the Rev. Christopher Henry, associate pastor of Morningside Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.

He said he became involved in the effort because of a desire to educate others about the current minimum wage, and how it "negatively affects" state workers. "At the current wage, people are not able to meet the basic necessities of food, housing, transportation, child care and health care," said Henry. "A job should keep you out of poverty, not in it."

The associate pastor said he would like to see the state minimum wage raised above the poverty threshold, which currently stands at $14,291 per year for one parent with a dependent. In order to make that possible, he added, certain misconceptions about who earns such a wage, must be overcome.

"Most people don't know that 85 percent of minimum-wage earners are 20 years old or older," Henry said. "Fifty-one percent are full-time employees. We want to help people who are doing the most they can, to help themselves."

He also said the minimum-wage debate in Georgia contains a "moral" component, and comes down to a question of "economic justice" for workers in the state. "God is on the side of justice," said Henry. "It is not just for workers to labor 40 hours a week, go home and not be able to lift themselves out of poverty."