When the president unveiled his plan to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour during his State of the Union address earlier this month, we sat up and paid attention. After all, the Myrtle Beach metro area, with its emphasis on tourism and hospitality industries, consistently ranks right at the bottom of the nation when it comes to hourly and annual earnings for local workers.
Thousands of employees across the Grand Strand working as waitstaff, cashiers, maids, bartenders and more are in occupations that currently pay less than the $9 an hour the president proposed. According to numbers from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 35,000 workers (a little less than a third of the work force) in the Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach-Conway metro area are in jobs whose median wage is less than $9 an hour.
Raising the wages of those folks could be great news for our local economy, bringing residents out of poverty, providing new money to those most likely to turn around and respend it elsewhere, and helping workers to leave government assistance programs. Unfortunately, the idea could also be a nonstarter, encouraging beleaguered businesses to simply hire fewer workers, lay off some already employed, give the workers they have fewer hours or cut costs elsewhere as they attempt to absorb the higher price of labor.
Economic experts have debated for decades the merits of raising the minimum wage, with little resolution. There remains a camp convinced that raising the rate, the value of which has been decereased by inflation over the years, would be a boon for millions stuck in low-wage jobs. Another camp remains just as convinced that a wage hike would hamper the already-weak economic recovery we’ve experienced and lead to more jobless.
We’re not economists or labor experts, so we hesitate to come down on one side or another of the debate. Given our labor market, however, it’s a discussion worth watching. Stay tuned.