Viewpoint

The other economic victims of HB2

Cleghorn
Cleghorn

Ironic, isn’t it, that our Republican-controlled, God-fearing General Assembly chose Holy Week to attempt an unholy alliance?

Passed just hours before Christians remembered the crucifixion of Christ Jesus, the ideological ambush that is HB2 has rightly invoked the ire of a powerful coalition of opponents who stand against its assault on our LGBT neighbors. That includes business, government and, yes, faith leaders who recognize the innate worth and manifold contributions LGBT people make to life in our state.

But HB2 did more than just crucify the LGBT community. It also crucified the working poor. With HB2, the very party that is said to believe in local government control and market forces dictated that local governments cannot set their own minimum wage.

Affected are the tens of thousands of North Carolinians who do the toughest jobs of our economy. They haul our trash, clean up after us, work fast-food counters, harvest our food and tend our sick, all for $7.25 per hour. What does it take to live? Try more like $10.53 an hour in North Carolina, according to one study by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology urban economist. And that’s for someone without a family.

What is a so-called “fair wage?” Shouldn’t that be up to each city or county to choose as both a moral and an economic decision? Having worked in the private sector for 25 years, I’d rather see local business people – and citizens of all kinds – say what it takes to attract the best and the brightest, rather than the governor and his capitol ideologues.

Some speculate this provision was an attempted olive branch to the private sector that might not like the LGBT provision. But this attempt at unholy alliance has already blown up in their faces.

We live in a nation with a cancerous gap between the haves and the have-nots. Our city ranks among the worst as a place where the working poor can climb out of poverty. So this is more than just a “bathroom bill” about who uses which toilet. It’s also about who stays in the “poor house.”

For Christians, this season of Eastertide is a time to celebrate a new start in the grace of God. Any HB2 repeal effort should be sure to roll back local wage restrictions, for the sake of “the least among us.”

John Cleghorn is pastor, Caldwell Presbyterian Church, former business journalist and retired senior vice president at Bank of America.

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