Minimum wage under the microscope as Mississippi prepares to end federal unemployment benefits

Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 11:03 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - COVID-19 has had a domino effect on many parts of our daily lives. For many, it’s meant job loss.

But Mississippi leaders say it’s time to get back to work. That’s putting the minimum wage under the microscope.

The Mississippi Department of Employment Security tells us that 70,000 Mississippians will lose their federal unemployment benefits after June 12. That will leave around 15,000 receiving the standard unemployment at a maximum of $235 a week.

Meanwhile, many folks have been making more on unemployment than when they were working.

Letressa Dukes is bracing for the impact of losing the added $300 a week that’s helped her get by. A COVID diagnosis last spring has delayed her ability to return to the type of job she was used to working.

“Two weeks after I got sick with COVID, I had to be hospitalized and I was on oxygen for about three months and now I’m still having symptoms… breathing problems and numbness in my feet and legs,” explained Dukes.

She’s a single mom who says child care needs and her rural location complicates her job search.

“We have to go at least, like, 30 miles away from here to try to get a dependable high paying job. It’s real hard here and you don’t have a lot of options. I’m unemployed but I’m still looking for a job.”

The Governor’s announcement has sparked a new debate about minimum wage. House Minority Leader Rep. Robert Johnson made this note:

“It appears that the leadership is angry because people suddenly discover, wait a minute, I was right. What I’m being paid is not enough to live on. And so I’m actually able to support my family, pay my bills better with what I’m getting from unemployment than I’m getting working.””

The March State of the State survey by Millsaps and Chism Strategies shows nearly 70 percent of Mississippians polled support raising minimum wage. Johnson says it’s an example of leadership’s disconnect with the will of the people.

“Every state is not the same. We have the lowest median income in the country. We have a high poverty rate and country. It’s something we need to do a better job about.”

Johnson suggests raising the minimum wage to 9 or 10 dollars an hour would help low-wage workers want to return and boost the economy.

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