Editorial: No need for wage registry

A living wage registry for the city of Lawrence would not serve a meaningful purpose and is not something city commissioners should pursue.

The idea of such a registry came up during public comment at last week’s City Commission meeting. Lawrence resident Mike Wasikowski suggested a registry could be helpful to those looking for work and to those seeking to support businesses that pay workers a living wage.

Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen, Commissioner Jennifer Ananda and Commissioner Matthew Herbert said they were interested in the concept. Herbert said the voluntary registry could be a nice way to thank the businesses that go above and beyond in order to pay living wages.

“Within the confines of state law, it’s our best opportunity to reward businesses that voluntarily have taken it upon themselves to pay a living wage and thereby make the community a better place,” he said.

Kansas uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Lawrence does not have a separate minimum wage, but the city does require businesses seeking tax incentives to pay employees a minimum of $12.99 per hour.

Herbert and others suggested that the $12.99 per hour rate could be used for the living wage registry. In essence, businesses that pay all employees $12.99 per hour or more would be eligible for listing on the registry, which would be made available to the public. Those on the registry, which would be voluntary, would also get stickers for their stores.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating and supporting businesses that pay a living wage; however, the voluntary living wage registry operates on the flawed concept that all businesses are equal. The Lawrence workforce is driven by primary jobs in government, education, health care and manufacturing. The size of the aforementioned workforce then drives employment in retail, leisure, hospitality and services. While such jobs typically pay less, they are no less important to the overall health of the economy, providing job opportunities that meet the needs of other sectors of the community such as students and entry-level workers.

Chamber Vice President of Economic Development Steve Kelly said he thought a registry could be unfair to businesses that are not able to meet the $12.99 per hour standard, particularly those in the hospitality industry.

“To me, it’s almost trying to accomplish what might be a positive goal through a shaming process, which just doesn’t seem right,” Kelly said.

Kelly is right. The way to increase the standard of living in Lawrence is not through a living wage registry, but rather, it is through a coordinated and consistent effort to grow the city’s base of employers who provide living-wage jobs. That’s where the City Commission’s focus should be.


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