Senator Kelly Ayotte and her challenger, Maggie Hassan, are scheduled to go toe-to-toe on November 2, their last debate before Election Day. As someone who has spent much of my adult life working in a low-wage jobs, I urge the moderators ask the candidates to answer one of the most important questions for working households like mine: whether they will vote to raise the minimum wage.
Working people in New Hampshire deserve to know why, during her time in the U.S. Senate, Kelly Ayotte has voted against every effort to raise the minimum wage. Her opposition to raising the federal minimum wage has kept it frozen at a poverty-level of $7.25 an hour since 2009. The low federal minimum wage is even more significant in New Hampshire because it is the only New England state that ties its state minimum wage to the federal level. Sen. Ayotte’s role in keeping the federal minimum wage low is therefore doubly hurting New Hampshire’s working families, keeping pay low in this increasingly expensive state.
Without action to raise the minimum wage, the adjusted median wage in New Hampshire has declined by almost 7 percent since the recession, a sharper decline than virtually all other states in the nation. As a result, over 35 percent of working New Hampshirites (225,300 workers) today earn less than $15 per hour, and 155,000 are paid less than $12. The vast majority of these low-wage workers are adults 25 and older, including over 15 percent who are 55 years or older. Most of these workers are women, many raising children – New Hampshire’s future – on low wages. The low federal minimum wage forces hundreds of thousands of working families to seek food stamps and other forms of public assistance each year, costing New Hampshire taxpayers $104 million annually.
As an adult working low wage jobs, I have been struggling to get by. When I went back to college full time to finish my degree, I worked at a fast food restaurant up to 40 hours a week during closing shift, and over 30 hours a week at a retail store to support myself. Even while working both of these jobs, I could not fully support myself. I couldn’t afford an apartment and was still living with my parents at the age of 29. I couldn’t afford health insurance and it was not offered to me through either job. Last year I became injured and I was working at a retail store where I was only offered 5-8 hours a week of work. I was paid $7.25 even though I had a college degree, management experience, and a beautiful resume. I had to rely on government assistance and food pantries to get by until I found new work. I now work for an organization that pays me $15. I have an apartment, a car, and am able to independently financially support myself for the first time in my life. Raising the minimum wage to $15 would do so much for struggling families. I know earning a livable wage has been life changing for me.
Contrary to the claims we hear from opponents, raising the minimum wage increases the income of low-wage workers without hurting jobs . The most recent and most rigorous studies to date have shown that any employment effects from an increase in the wage floor are very small. As Goldman Sachs analysts summarized recently, “the economic literature has typically found no effect on employment” from U.S. minimum wage increases.
New Hampshire workers of all ages deserve fair pay and a shot at a decent life. They are frustrated by Sen. Ayotte and the Republican Congress’s blocking any action to raise the minimum wage. Gov. Maggie Hassan, by contrast, has called for giving working families in New Hampshire the long overdue minimum wage increase they need. Recent polling shows that nearly three-quarters of New Hampshire voters want a minimum wage increase, and that when voters learn of Sen. Ayotte’s track record on the minimum wage, Gov. Hassan’s lead widens.
With voters demanding action on the minimum wage, other Republican incumbents are reassessing their opposition to raising wages. Last week, Senators Rob Portman (Ohio) and Ron Johnson (Wisconsin) backtracked on their previous opposition to raising the minimum wage, and Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen backed a $15 minimum wage for Florida. As she seeks another term in the U.S. Senate, Kelly Ayotte’s should do the same.
Jeff Kramer lives in Manchester and is now a field organizer with Rights & Democracy, a grassroots member organization which is part of the Raise Up New Hampshire Coalition.