LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - President Obama's push to increase federal minimum wage has put the issue front and center nationally, but there's a separate movement underway to increase Arkansas' minimum wage.
Arkansas' minimum wage now stands at $6.25 per hour, and that's where it's been since 2006, when the state Legislature increased it from $5.15.
Now, a group called 'Give Arkansas A Raise' is working to collect 62,500 signatures by July 1st to put another increase on the November ballot.
Led by the Rev. Steve Copley, the group wants to raise the wage gradually to $8.50 per hour by 2017.
Copley said too many Arkansans,about 160,000, are working hard but still unable to rise above poverty.
"This is an important issue to so many people in Arkansas. People who work hard every day they play by the rules and somehow they still continue to fall behind," said Copley.
Copley argues that a hike to the minimum wage will make workers happier and more productive, and also lower worker turnover, but employers are skeptical.
Montine McNulty, director of the Arkansas Hospitality Association, said the increase would keep employers from adding more jobs because current workers are more expensive.
McNulty also said some employers might have to lay off workers to afford the increase, or they might pass the hike along to customers in the form of higher prices.
Economists, meanwhile, are split on how best to improve the lives of low-wage earners.
Kathy Deck, an economist at the University of Arkansas, said that anyone who works full time and heads a household should make enough money to escape poverty.
Deck thinks a better way to help the poor is to raise the federal earned income tax credit, which provides cash through the federal income tax system to low- and moderate-income families based on their earnings.
Other groups are watching the issue.
Walmart Stores Inc. of Bentonville haven't taken a stance on the federal or state minimum wage, but it notes that most of its workers aren't minimum wage workers, and some observers think Walm
art could better absorb a hike than its smaller competitors.
The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce also hasn't said whether it supports a state wage increase.
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