To the editor:

The time when minimum wage jobs were filled by part-time, young laborers is long gone. Now, thousands of hardworking Kentuckians work for 40-plus hours per week and still cannot provide for themselves.

According to the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics program, over 25% of all available jobs in rural western Kentucky pay less than $8/hour. In Hopkins County, where there are only around 19,000 jobs (compared to the county’s 43,000-plus population), nearly 5,000 available jobs pay less than $8 per hour, or minimum wage.

Republican lawmakers in Congress and here in Kentucky have consistently railed against an increase to the minimum wage — often arguing that a severe inflation of prices for everyday goods would occur. This is a flawed argument. Prices have been rising consistently for years, while wages have remained stagnate — forcing more and more people in the workforce, to rely on welfare and other assistance programs to merely get by. For instance, the price of a pound of ground beef in 2009 averaged $2.06 — now, it’s $3.81.

Another argument is that small businesses would not be able to pay employees if the minimum wage was increased. To that, we simply ask, how can you claim to run a business if your employees are unable to feed their families? That is not to discredit the critical role small businesses play in our local and national economy, however, if a business cannot adequately pay its employees, there should be some serious reevaluation of the organization.

At a certain point, we must take a step back and decide if we are running a business or a sweatshop.

The arguments against raising the minimum wage, much like the wage itself, have not changed. However, the need for raising the wage is more important now than ever. To any lawmaker that denies this fact, we ask you to speak with the people you represent and attempt to understand their hurting. Could you provide for yourself and your family off of $15,000 per year?

It is simple. Any person working 40 hours per week should not also be reliant on numerous welfare programs because their employer is not paying them appropriately.

The federal minimum wage, when calculated annually at 40 hours per week, is actually $5,000 below the federal poverty line.

This also presents an opportunity for local officials like Judge-Executive Jack Whitfield Jr. and Board of Education Superintendent Dr. Deanna Ashby to explore collaborative means of creating a higher paying job market — one in which 25% of available jobs do not pay minimum wage.

As the ‘normal’ jobs continue to leave our community, our leaders should act now to develop a strong and skilled workforce that can take on innovative and high paying jobs right here in Hopkins County.

Brandon Cooper

Brandon Cooper is a student at the University of Louisville, and an alumni of Hopkins County Central. He can be reached at Action@PersonalPolitics.net.