Raise The Minimum Wage – Thursday, February 5, 2004 – Published in The Concord Monitor
For the third time in recent years, there is a legislative effort to raise the minimum wage in New Hampshire. House Bill 1278, a bill sponsored by Rep. Sandra Keans and Rep. Terie Norelli, is before the Legislature.
The bill proposes to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.65 over a three-year period with 50-cent increases each year.
New Hampshire remains the only state in New Hampshire that has not raised the minimum wage above $5.15, the federal minimum. Vermont, Rhode Island and Massachusetts increased their state minimums to $6.75. Maine moved up to $6.25, and Connecticut sets the standard at $7.10, almost two dollars above New Hampshire.
While the economy has not been good, none of these states have experienced any adverse economic effects from raising the minimum wage.
A surprisingly large number of New Hampshire workers are currently paid very low wages. The Department of Employment Security reports that 31,000 workers in our state earn between $5.15 – $7.15 an hour with 10,000 more earning $5.15 or less. Many thousands more earn under $9 an hour.
These low-wage workers are a forgotten and invisible constituency. They have no movement or powerful organization championing their cause. They are the equivalent of political background furniture. They merit attention only during primary season among the laundry list of issues.
They do not earn enough to provide for their families and pay for basic necessities of life. Part of the changing face of homelessness is the reality that more homeless people are employed full-time but cannot afford the high cost of housing. Many are working at jobs which offer no health insurance, no pension plan, no sick pay and no other benefits. The lucky have 40-hour-a-week jobs rather than the 24-hour jobs increasingly favored by business.
Pay is so low for these workers that many qualify for government assistance from state or local welfare. In effect, the government is subsidizing business. Because workers are paid so little, they must turn to food stamps, Medicaid, fuel assistance and other survival programs.
Is the treatment of low-wage workers considered a scandal? No. A scandal is Janet Jackson’s breast at the Super Bowl. It is Mel Gibson’s movie, Ben and J. Lo’s breakup, Britney’s marriage or Martha’s trial.
Lousy treatment of low-wage workers is not a scandal. It is business as usual. It is normalcy.
The House Republican leadership is fighting the increase in the minimum wage. Rep. Lee Slocum, a Republican member of the House Labor Committee, has introduced an amendment substituting an entirely different bill for the minimum wage bill. Slocum’s bill proposes a study of tax credits for businesses that hire some minimum wage workers.
The idea of a bill that actually helps workers is apparently too much to fathom. Possibly there will be other amendments.
Raising the minimum wage will not end poverty. It will not even create a livable wage. It is, however, a positive, incremental step. It will pay more rents, utilities, car payments and food bills. Even a little more can make a difference.
In all the other New England states, Republicans and Democrats came together because raising the minimum wage was the right thing to do. This is not a partisan issue. Surely, the Legislature can do the right thing here too.