State Democratic legislators filed a bill in the House and Senate this month calling for the increase of minimum wage to $15 an hour over a five-year period.
The bill, entitled the Economic Security Act of 2017, calls for an increase of the minimum wage standard from $7.25 to $8 by September of this year. Wages would again increase to $9.50 by 2018, to $11 by 2019, to $13 by 2020 and finally to $15 by 2021.
The average per capita income in Wayne County is $21,818, which equates to about $10 an hour.
Twenty-two percent of the Wayne County population live on or below the poverty line.
Sen. Louis Pate, R-Dist. 7, of Mount Olive, has reservations about raising the minimum wage. He says the economy would be unable to sustain a state-mandated raise in wages.
"The danger of doing something like that, in my opinion, is you don't necessarily have the economy to go along with the raise of people's pay at the minimum rate," he said.
Pate said his concern is with businesses that might not be able to sustain a work force if the economy is not as hearty as the wages in which they are required to give.
"Unless both of them are going along the same curve, you couldn't justify doing that. How could a business owner commit themselves to something like that, if the economy isn't going to make it worthwhile."
The bill addresses more than increasing the minimum wage. It calls for equal pay for equal work and the reinstatement of family tax credits and repeals the public employee collective bargaining restrictions.
One of the bill's primary sponsors, Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, said in a release that the bill addresses several workers' rights issues, but the main objective is to provide an avenue for workers to move upward economically.
"This legislation contains many policies meant to level the playing field and provide economic security for working North Carolina families," she said.