In a little more than a month, voters in Arkansas will have the opportunity to vote on several ballot initiatives. Chief among them for Arkansas’s poorest populations is an initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage three times over the next three years: from $8.50 to $9.25 per hour by Jan. 1, 2019; then to $10 an hour by Jan. 1, 2020; and finally to $11 an hour by Jan. 1, 2021.
The measure will undoubtedly hit the pocketbooks of some employers, but we don’t have to look far to see the need for higher, more livable wages in Arkansas (it should also be noted that, according to officials with the Arkansans for a Fair Wage Committee, the state has added 70,000 new jobs since the minimum wage last increased in 2014). Living in northwest Arkansas, we’re witness to the economic growth that can hit a region when that region’s leaders play their cards right (and find a little bit of luck). It means more jobs, but also, as we’re seeing in Fayetteville, it means higher demand for housing, which brings with it higher rent costs and higher mortgages.
It’s a burden any developing area must carry, and if the governor is serious about wanting to bring Arkansas up to par with other successful states, then a livable wage is a no-brainer. Reports show that in the last five years alone, housing costs in Fayetteville have risen 35 percent, and many in Fayetteville spend more than half their monthly income on housing alone.
That may seem irrelevant to us here in Madison County – after all, Fayetteville has always been Fayetteville, and Madison County has been a quiet, more peaceful exception to an otherwise burgeoning region. But let’s not pretend growth isn’t going to trickle over here, especially considering the housing boom that we see with our neighbors, who right now are finding opportunity in being that buffer between us and the big four of Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville.
Elkins, which separates us in the southwest from Fayetteville, has seen substantial growth over the last three years. According to figures provided by Mayor Bruce Ledford earlier this summer for an article on housing we published, 35 building permits were issued for new homes in 2016. In 2017, that number increased to 50. As of July, for this year, that number was up to 74.
Goshen, which separates us from Fayetteville to the west, has seen similar growth over recent years. That growth led to the opening of a new Dollar General store there, and will likely result in more businesses looking at the town.
In Madison County, we’re already seeing some of that, but not nearly to the extent of those other towns. Hindsville has a new subdivision going in, but the rest of the county is in a sort of housing crisis, with low- and middle-income housing becoming more and more scarce. As those towns to our west – Goshen, Elkins and Sonora – begin to fill up, the influx of people wanting to reap the benefits of northwest Arkansas will undoubtedly start looking here. When that happens, costs will go up, too.
Right now, we can sit comfortably with our lower rents and quieter living, but it won’t be that way forever. Northwest Arkansas is rapidly changing, and we need to ensure we, as individuals, can change with it. That means earning a livable income, so that we can maintain our lives here, and not be swallowed by the rising costs a larger population will inevitably bring with it.
I challenge anyone to try to live on minimum wage today. Even here, with our lower rents and mortgages, I suspect you’ll find it’s difficult. Now, go to Craigslist and look at rental costs in Elkins and Goshen, and tell me: is $8.50/hour adequate for the coming growth?