MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County’s mayor is pushing for Tennessee to enact a statewide minimum wage of at least $15 an hour.
Mayor Lee Harris said this week a statewide minimum wage would be one of the top priorities in his legislative agenda.
“It is past time for the State of Tennessee to adopt a minimum wage of at least $15 per hour,” Harris said in a news release. “The best way that we can support working families is to do everything we can to ensure that Tennesseans receive a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.”
Shelby County government increased its minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2019, and has since increased it to $16. Tennessee, however, has no statewide minimum wage.
Private employers may choose to pay workers the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, an amount that was last increased in 2009. Many local companies such as St. Jude have instituted higher minimum wages.
The amount required for a “living wage” in Shelby County for one adult with no children is currently $15.37 an hour, and up to $46.88 for one adult with three children, according to an online calculator developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Many Republicans have argued that increases to minimum wage laws end up hurting workers by forcing employers to cut jobs. A bill to increase Tennessee’s minimum wage to $8.25 for workers at companies that did not provide health insurance failed in 2014.
Twenty-six states increased their minimum wages in 2022. A minimum wage of $15 an hour was set for federal government jobs earlier this year.
Five states — Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina — have not adopted a minimum wage, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Seventeen others have a statewide minimum wage set at the federal rate of $7.25.
Harris is also proposing a slate of public safety recommendations along with District Attorney General Steve Mulroy and Juvenile Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon, along with more funding for youth and adult mental health support, in his legislative agenda.
Their first public safety priority is fully funding TBI crime labs to increase staffing and address the city’s ongoing backlog of rape evidence kits. They also will seek to re-establish a crime lab in Memphis. Currently, DNA must be sent to a lab in Jackson for processing.