Local workers: Increase not enough

Minimum-wage workers get a 70-cent pay raise starting today, but laborers and economic experts said the new federally-mandated hourly rate doesn't mean much in a sluggish economy with $4 per gallon gas.

Some workers who make more than the new minimum wage of $6.55 said they are struggling to make ends meet. James Island Kangaroo employee Christine Dewar said she makes $8 an hour and that the government should give her a raise. She and her husband, an electrician, earn too much to qualify for welfare assistance, she said. They have three kids. The cost of day care, food and gas are big issues for them.

"It's a hard time for everybody," said

Teresa Thomas of Folly Beach. She shopped Wednesday at the James Island Goodwill. Raising the minimum wage is good, but it's still too low, she said.

Family Dollar shopper Junior Ladson, a retired merchant marine, said the minimum wage should be more than $10 per hour. He said of the new minimum wage: "That's just like robbing a man without a gun. A poor man doesn't make anything. They are the hardest-working people in this country," Ladson said.

Gary Crossley, an employment consultant, noted that last year's minimum-wage increase from $5.15 to $5.85 per hour was the first hike in 10 years. "Nobody makes minimum wage but what they do make isn't enough," said Crossley, former head of the local Employment Security Commission office.

According to official statistics, 2.3 percent of the area's estimated 300,000 employees earn minimum wage. College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner said those figures are misleading because an employer might report that a worker makes minimum wage but that in reality he or she is compensated in other ways, too. For instance, a migrant worker who is paid minimum wage might also receive free housing.

"Anyone that has any skills will be above minimum wage. It doesn't affect most people," Hefner said. An unskilled high school dropout working a first job would be affected by a minimum-wage increase, he said. He described the increase as "feel-good legislation." A minimum-wage income is far below the poverty line, he said. "It's almost a non-event to raise the minimum wage," he said.

Otis Rawl, South Carolina Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer, said the chamber took no position on the federally mandated increase, which he said would not lead to any significant number of lost jobs.