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2021 Indiana General Assembly

Melton championing first Indiana minimum wage increase since 2009

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State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, is leading an effort this year at the Statehouse to increase Indiana's $7.25 per hour minimum wage for the first time in 12 years.

The two-term senator has filed legislation to boost the lowest legal pay rate in the state to $10 per hour on Jan. 1, 2022, and by an additional $1 per hour each year until the minimum wage reaches $15 per hour on Jan. 1, 2027.

His chances of success are slim, however, since the Republican-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb have different ideas for improving the lives of some of the hardest working — but lowest paid — Hoosiers.

Indiana Senate Democrats 2021 agenda announcement

For Melton, raising the minimum wage simply is an issue of fairness.

He said the costs of housing, transportation, child care, food, and nearly every other necessity of life have increased 20% or more since 2009, while the minimum wage has remained unchanged.

Even just adjusting the $7.25 per hour rate to account for more than a decade of inflation would put the minimum wage at $8.64 per hour, according to the Federal Reserve Bank.

"It's long past due for action," Melton said. "I truly believe that Indiana can and should do better."

Moreover, the Region lawmaker said the willingness of minimum wage "essential workers" to remain on the job amid the COVID-19 pandemic more than justifies a meaningful increase to their paychecks and Indiana's minimum wage.

"During this pandemic, our working Hoosiers kept our groceries stores open, delivered our food and our packages during the quarantine, cleaned our stores and even our offices just to keep us safe," Melton said.

"We can't just simply show our gratitude by saying 'thank you.' We also should show it by fighting for them to increase their wages to a livable wage."

Melton said the need for a higher minimum wage is particularly acute in Northwest Indiana where businesses are competing for workers with companies across the state line where the minimum wage is $14 per hour in Chicago, $13 per hour in suburban Cook County, and $11 per hour elsewhere in Illinois.

At the very least, Melton said Hoosier lawmakers should repeal the 2011 law prohibiting Indiana counties, cities and towns from setting a local minimum wage that's higher than the federal rate.

"This is an unnecessary and harmful statute that tramples on the rights of small government and does nothing to move our state forward," Melton said.

A different perspective

For Holcomb, the goal is to get Hoosiers entirely out of minimum wage jobs using state-funded job training and education programs that propel them into careers that have both upward mobility and "future-proof" characteristics.

"We have so many, right now, opportunities that are way north of the minimum wage opportunities," Holcomb said. "I'm trying to fill jobs at $28 an hour. Some are $65 an hour."

The Republican chief executive said Hoosiers interested in those types of jobs should visit the NextLevelJobs.org website to connect to no-cost training programs in advanced manufacturing, building and construction, health and life sciences, information technology and business services, and transportation and logistics.

State lawmakers have allocated $4 million a year to fund the Indiana Workforce Ready Grants that pay for training programs. That money was supplemented last year by $20 million in federal funds provided through the CARES Act.

"What I don't want people to be caught up in is tethered to some appeal to a minimum expectation of anything in their life," Holcomb said. "Especially while we have resources here to help folks with the opportunities that are out there now."

In response, Melton said the problem isn't that minimum wage workers in Indiana lack job skills — they just need a livable wage.

He said the focus should be on "ensuring that folks can afford to live in their homes or their apartments, pay for child care, and not be in a debtor's prison in terms of not being able to afford their living expenses."

The governor said he recognizes not every person working a minimum wage job in Indiana has the time, resources, skills or sobriety to participate in a training program that leads to a higher paying job.

But he pointed out Indiana offers free or low-cost health care coverage, drug treatment programs, child care assistance and myriad other programs and services — many linked to job training programs — that can help on their way to a better life.

"I don't want folks to feel they only have one option, and it's a minimum expectation. I want people to strive for the maximum," Holcomb said.

"That's what's on my agenda. That's what I'm going to be trying to promote."

Meet the 2021 Northwest Indiana legislative delegation

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