Following President Biden’s proposal to increase the minimum wage nationally to $15 an hour, a handful of Democrats in the N.C. legislature have introduced a bill that would set that same earnings benchmark for noncertified public school employees.

Rep. Terence Everitt, D-Wake, introduced House Bill 5 that would make the change effective July 1. On the Senate side, Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene, filed a bill that would require the Department of Public Instruction to study and make recommendations on the concept of raising wages to $15 per hour for the same employees. Both measures are stuck in committees.

The concept of a $15 minimum wage for government workers is not new in the Tar Heel State. In 2018, the Republican-controlled legislature approved a $15 minimum wage for all state government employees. If passed, H.B. 5 would bring school staff to that same level.

Democrats in North Carolina’s more left-leaning cities are also taking action. The Durham County Board of Commissioners, for instance, voted to approve doubling the minimum wage for the county’s classified school employees.

State Democrats at the federal level are taking a more aggressive approach by signing on to legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 on a gradual scale by 2025. This change would apply to private businesses.

“The federal minimum wage has been held hostage at $7.25 for almost 12 years, but you can’t survive on seven twenty-five, especially not during a pandemic,” said U.S. Rep. Alma Adams of North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District. Adams is one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

Critics of raising the minimum wage point out that small businesses are already battered by COVID-19 shutdowns and the sagging economy.

One analysis by the conservative Heritage Foundation estimated that a restaurant with five full-time workers facing a doubled minimum wage would mean an extra $85,800 in wages and employment taxes. With restaurant profit margins in the range of 5%, the added cost would be untenable in normal times, yet alone during the pandemic.

A new paper from scholars David Neumark and Peter Shirley reviewed all existing research on the effects of minimum wage hikes and found that such increases were generally bad for employees, especially those with lower skills such as teens, young adults, and the less educated.

“Private employers that have to earn money from customers must make choices: Whether to replace labor with capital, cut workers alone, or raise prices,” said Joseph Colleti, senior fellow for fiscal studies with the John Locke Foundation. “Low-skill workers often end up losing their jobs and unemployed people with low skills have a harder time finding work.”

David Bass is a freelance writer for Carolina Journal.