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Minimum wage debate will likely return to state Legislature in the upcoming session

A Now Hiring sign hangs near the entrance to a Winn-Dixie Supermarket in Hallandale, Florida.
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The Hawaiʻi State Legislature is less than a month away from opening day. Lawmakers will face a number of issues — including some that are returning from past sessions.

One of those is the minimum wage.

A measure to raise it from $10.10 an hour has passed the Senate for the past two sessions, but not the House. In 2014, the Legislature approved gradually raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over several years.

Advocates say the issue was showing progress just before the pandemic.

"At the start of the 2020 session, so in January 2020, the House had come out with a bill that they had agreed with the Senate and governor to raise the minimum wage then, and then two months later COVID hit, and they kind of threw that out the window," said Nate Hix, the founder of a group called Living Wage Hawaii.

"Now that we’re almost two years — or we will be two years by the end of session — gone from the start of COVID, we’re hopeful that the House is kind of back in agreement that the minimum wage does need to be raised," he told HPR's The Conversation.

The latest state data show a single adult would need to make about $17 to $18 an hour at a full-time job to afford to live in Hawaiʻi — that's about $35,000 a year. For Oʻahu, that number increases slightly to $36,300.

According to Human Resources software developer Paycor, 24 states are scheduled to raise the minimum wage in 2022.

Twenty states use the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, while the country’s highest minimum wage is in the District of Columbia — at $15.20 an hour.

Also, 20 states have minimum wages that are higher than Hawaiʻi’s.

"The reality is, in states across the nation who have encouraged or have resulted in minimum wage increases, it's not a death blow, right? The economy keeps chugging along, businesses adapt as they do to any scenario, right. Businesses have adapted to COVID, which has been a monstrous hit. Minimum wage increases are pennies compared to that," Hix told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Head over to The Conversation's Dec. 15 episode to hear more from Nate Hix about raising the minimum wage.

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