Minimum Wage Increase Is Overdue: Legislature Has Shown Disregard For Workers – Saturday, February 24, 2007 – Concord Monitor
The Legislature is considering raising the state’s minimum wage. This will be the fifth state effort to raise the minimum wage over $5.15 an hour. It has been 10 years since Congress last increased it.
New Hampshire remains the only state in New England that has failed to raise the minimum wage in recent years. Vermont is at $7.25 an hour, and its minimum wage is automatically adjusted upward for inflation. Maine is at $6.75 and will increase to $7 on Oct. 1. Massachusetts is at $7.50 and will go to $8 in 2008.
So why hasn’t New Hampshire raised its minimum wage? A callous disregard for the needs of low-wage workers.
Even when it became clear that surrounding states did not suffer the adverse consequences predicted by opponents, no raise was forthcoming. For policymakers, these workers have not counted. They have no political organization or clout. There was no apparent fallout from ignoring their needs.
It is worth considering why such an uncaring attitude toward poor working-class people has predominated for such a long time. And not just in New Hampshire. Neglect has followed from non-recognition. Being written off has been a species of out of sight, out of mind.
The fact that the minimum wage has returned as a live issue is significant beyond the number of workers directly affected by an increase. Beginning to take the needs of working people seriously is long overdue for both political parties. It remains to be seen
whether either party will go beyond lip service.
We have lived through a period where the fantasy of the free market has reigned. The market will allegedly take care of all issues without any need for government regulation. The only problem is that 10 years has passed and the market did nothing for minimum-wage workers. In this instance, the market failed the public interest.
While the minimum wage stagnated, the pay of CEOs rose spectacularly. In 1978, the average CEO earned 78 times as much as a full-time year-round worker earning the minimum wage. By 2005, that same average CEO earned 821 times as much as a minimum wage worker.
The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank, has reported that an average CEO now earns more before lunchtime on the very first day of work in the year than a minimum wage worker earns all year.
Such extreme wage inequality has not always been the American way. An old tradition of the labor movement called for “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.” More generally, it is an American value that not only should jobs be out there for people who want to work, but the jobs should be able to provide for families.
Rather than waiting and hoping Congress will act – which it might – our state legislators are moving forward. The good news is that Rep. Marjorie Smith, chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, is sponsoring House Bill 514, which would raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour by Sept. 1, 2008.
The fiscal note attached to the bill states that approximately 30,000 workers in New Hampshire would benefit if the bill passed, but I believe a far broader group of workers would benefit.
Being poor in New Hampshire is about not having money to pay for life’s necessities. New Hampshire is an expensive place to live. The cost of rent and utilities increased by 35 percent during the last six years. Child-care costs increased 88 percent over the last five years. Health insurance costs increased 103 percent over the last seven years.
A minimum-wage increase translates into more money to pay for necessary items like food or rent and less need for assistance from safety net programs. Only government action will protect these workers. The time to act is now.