BY MELANIE BUCK –
Arkansas voters will get a chance at the polls this November to have their say in the minimum wage increase issue. If the proposal, submitted by Give Arkansas a Raise Now and certified by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, passes, Arkansas will gradually increase minimum wage rates over the next 2 years to bring workers a minimum of $8.50 per hour. Currently, Arkansas’ minimum wage is $6.25 per hour compared to a federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hour.
Arkansas’ last increase in 2006 still did not equal federal rates. In fact, at $6.25 per hour, Arkansas is one of only three states that have a rate that is less than the federal minimum wage. Georgia and Wyoming are behind Arkansas with a rate of $5.15 per hour.
Employers must meet the federal rate if certain conditions apply. Although most employers meet the federal rate willingly, there are exemptions in the state that allow employers to pay less than the federal rate. If a business makes less than $500,000 per year, they are allowed to pay $6.25 per hour to their employees. There are also exemptions that qualify employers to pay even less than the state rate. One such rate is the Arkansas Under 20 Minimum Wage. Federal law allows any employer in Arkansas to pay a new employee who is under 20 years of age a training wage of $4.25 per hour for the first 90 days of employment. Full time high school and college students that work part time can be paid as little as $5.31 per hour under the Arkansas Student Minimum Wage and most food service waiters earn $2.63 per hour in accordance with the Arkansas Tipped Minimum Wage.
The proposal, billed Arkansas Issue 5, if passed, will see the state’s first increase on January 1, 2015, to $7.50 per hour. On January 1, 2016, the rate would again increase, to bring minimum wage to $8 per hour and a final increase on January 1, 2017, for a total minimum wage of $8.50 per hour.
According to Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, studies have shown that the increase would boost the incomes of at least 168,000 workers in the state. It would also increase the amount employers and employees contribute to social security and medicare.
There are many exemptions for employers and employees to determine what wage is legally paid. To learn more about these exemptions, visit the Arkansas Department of Labor at www.labor.ar.gov.