As workers struggle to keep up with rising costs, Louisiana continues to be one of only five states without a state minimum wage. This means many workers in our state continue to work for the $7.25 federal minimum wage, which has not been raised since 2009. Over the last 13 years, increases in the cost of living have eroded the purchasing power of that $7.25 by about 25%.

Most advocates have set a goal of lifting the minimum wage to $15 an hour — and the elimination of subminimum wages, including the tipped minimum wage. According to Oxfam America, 802,558 workers in Louisiana, nearly 39% of all workers in the state, make less than $15 an hour. In fact, a majority of workers who identify as Black (58.1%) or Hispanic (50.4%) work for less than $15 an hour. And a near-majority of Louisiana women (49.5%) and most women of color (64.4%)  are paid less than $15 an hour.

Several bills have been proposed that would provide a much-needed boost to working families by raising the wage floor for Louisiana workers. They include:

  • House Bill 229 by Rep. Kyle Green, Jr. is a constitutional amendment to establish a state minimum wage, initially set at $11.65 an hour, and allows the Legislature to raise the wage above that level by statute. Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority in each legislative chamber, and approval by voters. 
  • House Bill 311 by Rep. Denise Marcelle would establish a $10 an hour minimum wage on Jan. 1, 2023, rising to $12 an hour on Jan. 1, 2024. From then on, the state minimum wage would increase if the federal minimum wage were to exceed the state standard. The bill would not apply to tipped workers, agricultural workers and students. 
  • House Bill 472 by Rep. Tammy Phelps would raise the minimum wage for workers who rely on tips as part of their income. Currently, the federal tipped minimum wage is $2.13 an hour, which would double to $4.26 an hour under the bill. It would also require that employers cover the difference between this wage and the federal minimum wage if enough tips are not collected during a shift. In instances where an employee disputes the amount of gratuity they are owed, the bill requires the employer to provide proof they paid an appropriate amount. 
  • House Bill 880 by Rep. Wilford Carter would establish a $10 an hour minimum wage starting June 30, 2023, which would rise to $15 per hour by 2026. Employers that pay their workers less than the legal minimum would face fines of up to $1,000 per employee. The wage law would not apply to student workers employed by the state or by state colleges or universities.
  • House Bill 1013 by Rep. Malinda White would create a $9 an hour minimum wage for all state employees, including judicial and legislative employees. Similar to HB 311, the bill would also provide state employees with a process for a civil remedy in cases where a state employee was underpaid. 

A sixth minimum wage bill – Senate Bill 269 by Sen. Regina Barrow – was struck down by the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations. A constitutional amendment, it would have set a $10.25 minimum wage starting in 2023, and indexed it to inflation in future years. 

Myth vs fact
The opponents of raising the minimum wage — such as the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, whose top lobbyist recently testified that he believed there should be no minimum wage —often claim that paying people more money will reduce available jobs. But the real-world effects of wage increases suggests that these fears are overblown. As economist Arindrajit Dube wrote for The Washington Post last year

Comparing states that increased their minimum wages with states that did not, we found the change in employment (in the five years after the change occurred) took place in a narrow band around the new minimum wage: Understandably, jobs paying below the minimum decreased — since wages rose. But at least as many jobs were added at the new, higher wage — meaning jobs were upgraded, not destroyed. All told, the number of low wage jobs barely budged. This finding held when we looked at populations of special concern — people with fewer educational credentials, for instance, or young workers. 

Other critics claim that the minimum wage is an “entry-level” wage intended for teens working part-time. But most minimum wage earners are adults, and according to Oxfam America, of Louisiana’s 802,558 workers making less than $15 an hour, only 8% (67,327) are teenagers.

As we have written before, raising the minimum wage can reduce poverty and bolster the economy, especially during times like these, when prices are on the rise for so many essential goods. Too many Louisianans have had to live on the $7.25 an hour minimum wage for the past 13 years. It’s time to give them a raise.

– Jackson Voss, Economic Opportunity Policy Analyst