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Arkansas voters approved a measure Tuesday to raise the state's minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2021. Issue 5 lifts what already is the highest base rate of pay for workers in the region comprising Arkansas and its six neighboring states.

Voters appeared to embrace the arguments made by Issue 5 supporting committee Arkansans for a Fair Wage, which contended that a pay increase could better the standard of living for thousands of families statewide while boosting consumer demand.

With 2,298 of 2,607 precincts reporting, the incomplete, unofficial returns were:

For 582,509

Against 268,895

Arkansans for a Fair Wage campaign manager Kristin Foster emphasized the effect the group expected the measure to have on poverty and food insecurity in Arkansas. "For working parents, this is going to have a huge impact on their ability to put food on the table," she said.

She said the result reflected the group's polling and the needs expressed by workers across the state.

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families Executive Director Rich Huddleston, whose organization released a study projecting Issue 5's impact, hailed the result's benefits for close to 155,000 Arkansas children who he said have a parent who will soon get a raise.

In a phone interview earlier Tuesday, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Randy Zook, who led opposition group Arkansans for a Strong Economy, said he anticipated the measure's approval could hurt the state's job seekers.

Through a spokesman, Gov. Asa Hutchinson expressed concerns about the measure's "potential negative impact on our economy and small businesses" but said he respected the will of the people.

Under the initiative, the first wage increase is set for January 1, when workers will get a raise to $9.25 per hour from the current minimum wage of $8.50.

The measure survived legal challenges that centered on questions about the signatures Arkansans for a Fair Wage had gathered to petition for its inclusion on the ballot.

In July, Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin's office notified the committee that after reviews, 17,289 of the originally submitted 69,413 signatures were invalid, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. This triggered a 30-day "cure" period in which the group was allowed to gather and submit additional signatures, which it filed on Aug. 3.

Arkansans for a Strong Economy then challenged the validity of the secretary of state's determination in court, arguing that the initial number of signatures submitted did not meet the threshold required for a "cure" period and that the secretary of state should be barred from counting votes for the measure.

But after a signature count by a court-appointed special master, the seven-member Arkansas Supreme Court ruled against that claim on Oct. 18, ensuring that Issue 5 would be decided by voters.

Proponents of the measure argued for its potential benefits to working families. They cited to a rising cost of living that they said burdens even full-time, minimum-wage workers, who earn less than $18,000 per year, and to the roughly 300,000 Arkansans who would get raises under the measure.

Issue 5 opponents said the initiative would hobble industry and erode the job growth the state has enjoyed in recent years. Younger and low-skilled workers would pay the price, detractors said, as business owners looked for ways to trim labor costs.

Arkansas last raised its minimum wage in 2014, also through a ballot measure, lifting the wage from $6.25 to $8.50 an hour over a three-year period. (Act 643 of 2017 prevents Arkansas cities and counties from raising their minimum wage above the state minimum wage.)

[2018 ELECTION: Full Democrat-Gazette coverage of Arkansas races]

On Tuesday, neighboring Missouri approved a ballot initiative to raise that state's mandated minimum wage from $7.85 to $8.60 an hour in 2019 and gradually to $12 an hour by 2023.

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have state minimum wages that are higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Washington, D.C., and the state of Washington, with minimum wages of $13.50 and $11.50, respectively, currently have the nation's highest minimum wages, though many increases are scheduled around the country at the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019.

Nationwide, discussions of the minimum wage have popped up with increasing frequency in political discourse, with a few prominent Democrats calling for a $15 federal minimum wage. That rate has not increased since 2009.

This year, several high-profile companies, including Amazon, Walmart, Costco and others, have made headlines with announcements about minimum wage increases for their workers.

Metro on 11/07/2018

Print Headline: Voters favor effort to raise minimum pay in Arkansas

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Archived Comments

  • RBear
    November 7, 2018 at 6:41 a.m.

    Great win for working families in Arkansas. There will no negative impact to the AR economy, just as there wasn't in 2014. If anything, it might help some local economies with an infusion of money directly into the markets.

  • PenLR
    November 7, 2018 at 8:51 a.m.

    Everyone who still has a job will make more per hour, which is great until their hours are cut or the layoffs start. Raising the minimum wage doesn't magically make money exist.

  • GeneralMac
    November 7, 2018 at 9:04 a.m.

    I voted NO.

    I always thought if one wanted to have binding wage requirements put on an employer, you had to organize, form a union , and NEGOTIATE the wage requirement into a binding contract.

    What will be on the ballot next time?

    Mandating every employer give an extra week of paid vacation to their employees ?

  • LRNell
    November 7, 2018 at 9:18 a.m.

    Tax policies that don't help the poor, removing people from health insurance programs, disenfranchisement of voters are all reasons to think that low wage earners need more support from the rest of us. When was the last time anyone heard Arkansas government say that they wanted to help the working poor? I am proud of Arkansans - they are open hearted and generous. At $11 per hour, full time workers will make $22,880 before taxes. Try living on that.

  • Nodmcm
    November 7, 2018 at 9:32 a.m.

    Most of our economy relies on purchases by regular, everyday working people. Somehow many of us forget that in our toadying to the rich and hugely successful among us. Yes, the guy who washes cars, or the gal who serves coffee, these are the type of people our economy is built upon. Give 'em a raise. Now for the next election, do I hear $15 an hour? Why does everyone feel sorry for the people making over $200,000 a year, because the poor dears must pay taxes? Finally someone feels sorry for the folks making less than $20,000. Here, here!

  • RBear
    November 7, 2018 at 10:13 a.m.

    Penlr no, the money doesn’t magically exist but is a part of operational expenses. There’s a lot in this equation that I have already covered. There will not be layoffs. There weren’t in 2014.

  • LRDawg
    November 7, 2018 at 10:46 a.m.

    Success! Nobody mad but the Repukes. Their agenda is to make the rich, richer....and the poor, poorer. Time to start paying workers what they're worth

  • MaxCady
    November 7, 2018 at 11:25 a.m.

    It should be $15 an hour.

  • SWAL
    November 7, 2018 at 11:43 a.m.

    "time to start paying workers what they're worth"
    Ed Zackerly

  • Bullgod1984
    November 7, 2018 at 12:24 p.m.

    If we paid workers what they were worth then the guy putting my burger together who can never remember to leave the pickles off should only be getting about $5/hr

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