KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Democrats in Tennessee have introduced a slew of new bills in the state legislature that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The topic is quite a talker online, with more than 1,700 comments on the WBIR Facebook page in the last day. But the topic is likely all talk with Republicans holding a super-majority in the state legislature.
Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) said she supports raising the minimum wage in Tennessee.
"You can't support a family on minimum wage. You really can't support yourself," said Johnson.
Johnson said it is time for Tennessee to establish a state minimum wage rather than relying on the federal government to set the standard. The national minimum wage of $7.25 was established in 2009 and has not changed since.
Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana are the five states without a minimum wage.
"We haven't raised the minimum wage in years. Well, Tennessee doesn't even have one. We just go with the federal. You have to make $14.75 to have a two-bedroom apartment in Tennessee. That's just housing, not everything else. I think that's a good judge of what we need to be paying folks," said Johnson.
Johnson recognized the reality of the situation in Nashville, where Republicans control the Capitol and have overwhelmingly expressed a desire to leave minimum wage alone.
At a legislative lunch hosted January 4 by the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists in Knoxville, Johnson was the only local member of the legislature to voice support for raising the minimum wage.
"If we raise the minimum wage, more people will become unemployed and go below the poverty line," said Rep. Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville).
"If you raise the minimum wage, businesses would then either cut hours or raise prices. And if you raise the minimum wage, you have to raise it for everyone else. Those workers would demand it," said Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge).
"I think the government ought to stay out of the way of business," said Rep. Dave Wright (R-Knoxville).
On our Facebook page, comments were largely opposed to raising minimum wage to $15 per hour. Many expressed they had worked their way up to a higher wage and immediately elevating others would feel like a demotion. Others supported an increase, but said $15 was too much for the lowest-paying jobs in Tennessee due to relatively low cost of living.
Johnson said more than a dozen states increased minimum wages last year and more than 20 are raising them in 2020. She said the predictions of economic collapse have not occurred elsewhere.
"We now have states to look to to see what happened when they raised the wage. The sky didn't fall. Prices didn't go crazy. And jobs were not lost and businesses didn't close. We saw the economies in those states either go up or remain flat. None went down," said Johnson.
Tennessee has one of the largest populations earning minimum wage. According to labor statistics, around 4.1 percent of the workforce in Tennessee earns minimum wage. That's the same percentage as Mississippi. Only Kentucky had a higher percentage with 4.4 percent of its workforce earning minimum wage.