O P I N I O N
STAND UP. SPEAK UP. IT’S YOUR TURN.
Did you know that the last time the minimum wage was raised in New Hampshire was September of 2008? In fact, in 2011 our legislature voted to get rid of a state-level minimum wage all together. Consequently, our state is the only one in New England that defaults to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
Every other state in New England has raised their minimum wage multiple times during that period. We are surrounded by states with significantly higher minimum wages. The current minimum wage in Massachusetts is $12 an hour. Maine’s minimum wage is $11 an hour, Vermont’s is $10.78, Rhode Island’s is $10.50 and Connecticut’s is $10.10. Is it any wonder we can’t keep young workers in the state?
It isn’t like things cost the same as they did in 2008. Rents, for example, have risen by about 20 percent. In 2008 the average rent in NH for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,044. In 2018 a similar apartment would rent for $1,296. According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition the hourly wage you would need to rent a two-bedroom apartment in NH is $22.32.
The cost of living in general in New Hampshire is pretty high compared to other parts of the country. Yet, we have the same minimum wage as Mississippi, which has the lowest cost of living in the United States. Arkansas, which has the third lowest cost of living in the country, has a minimum wage of $9.25.
In New Hampshire there are 14,500 fast food workers and 25,000 people who work in retail. Many of them work for big box stores and national chains and don’t make a living wage. A lot of people think that they are mostly teenagers, but think about it, when you walk into a fast food restaurant for lunch or stop at the mall during the day, the people who serve you aren’t teenagers. The kids are in school at that time of day where they belong. The people who wait on you are adults with rent to pay and groceries to buy.
It’s not like they can’t afford to pay more. Fast food is big business and the work of these employees contributes significantly to the economy. McDonald’s revenue in 2017 was $27 billion and that year the CEO of McDonald’s received $21.8 million in compensation. The average starting salary for a fast food worker in New Hampshire is $8.67 an hour.
The lobbyists will tell you that raising the minimum wage will crash the economy and people will lose their jobs, but history tells a different story. When they did it in Maine a couple of years ago, the lowest paid workers saw the greatest increase in income since 2001 and their unemployment rate fell to the lowest rate in 40 years. Raising the minimum wage has been a tried and true mechanism for stimulating the economy since FDR did it during the Depression. It also helped get us out of the recession of 2008. When the lowest-paid workers get more money, they don’t use it for stock buy backs, they spend it in the community – maybe they buy a coffee the next time they get gas, maybe they get a haircut, maybe they get caught up on their electric bill. Eventually it goes to the Walton family so they can buy another yacht or just hoard it, but until then, it is circulating among local businesses and benefitting the 99 percent.
One morning I was meeting someone at a Dunkin’ Donuts. The line of cars filled with people picking up coffee on the way to work was out into the street. I thought to myself, whoever is handing out the coffee at that drive-up window will probably do more for U.S. productivity in one shift than most CEO’s will do in their entire careers.
We rely on these people. They work hard. They are an important part of our community and play a key role in our economy. We should treat them with respect and they should be able to make enough money to live with dignity.
This year we have an opportunity to make this right and get rid of our starvation-level $7.25 minimum wage. Currently in Concord there are three minimum wage bills making their way through the New Hampshire House and one in the New Hampshire Senate. HB 178 raises the minimum wage to $10 an hour, HB186 raises the wage to $9.25 in 2020 and $12.00 in 2021 with a COLA in the following years, HB 731 raises the wage to $12 in 2020 with additional $.75 increases until it reaches $15 in 2024, SB10 raises the wage to $10 in 2020 and $11 in 2021 if sick days are provided and $12 if they are not.
The New Hampshire House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee will be holding a public hearing on raising the minimum wage on February 20 beginning at 11 a.m. in Concord. The public is welcome to come and testify. If you are not able to be there because you can’t afford to take time off from work, you can email your testimony to the committee here.
Beg to differ? Agree to disagree? Send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line: The Soapbox.
Kathy Staub lives in Manchester and is a member of Raise Up NH’s campaign to raise the minimum wage.