O P I N I O N
Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.
House Bill 731 is on its way to Governor Chris Sununu’s desk. The bill would raise New Hampshire’s minimum wage to $10 an hour in January of 2021 and to $12 an hour in 2023.
New Hampshire has been without a minimum wage statute since 2011 and defaults to the federal minimum wage. If Governor Sununu fails to sign the bill, New Hampshire will find itself falling even farther behind our neighboring New England states. As of January 1, 2021, the minimum wage in Connecticut will be $12, in Vermont $11.75, in Massachusetts $13.50, in Rhode Island $11.50, in Maine $12 plus a CPI increase, and in New Hampshire a pitiful $7.25.
Many of us are concerned about the coronavirus-related recession and raising the minimum wage during an economic downturn may not seem like a good idea. Opponents argue that it will hamper job growth. However, reams of studies have shown that raising the minimum wage during economic downturns does not hamper job growth.
In fact, raising the minimum wage is one of the most effective ways to stimulate the economy, because any additional money that goes into the pockets of low-wage workers will immediately be spent. As this money circulates through the economy it creates growth. The minimum wage was first implemented to help our country emerge from the Great Depression and the last time the federal minimum wage was raised was 10 years ago during the Great Recession. It is a tried and true tool to stoke economic recovery.
Opponents argue that small businesses will not be able to hire as many people back if they have to pay a minimum of $10 an hour. The bigger problem that small businesses face is lack of demand. Businesses are struggling because people don’t have money to spend or they are too worried about Covid-19 to leave the house. If Governor Sununu wants to support small businesses through this difficult period, allowing employers large and small to pay starvation wages is not the answer. A better choice would be rent subsidies for small businesses or special loan programs. Businesses can be flexible about hiring workers, but their rent is a fixed cost. It doesn’t go up or down based on the number of customers who come in.
Not every business has suffered during the pandemic. Grocery stores, fast food chains, and Dollar Stores have realized record profits. The “essential workers” who keep these places open are some of the lowest paid in the state. The average starting wage for a cashier is $9.08 and for a food service worker it is $8.83, and that was when unemployment in the state was under 3 percent. Can you imagine what the fast-food chains and big box stores will offer now that unemployment is hovering around 12 percent?
What will it mean if unscrupulous employers start paying people $8 an hour, like they did during the Great Recession? The National Low Income Housing Coalition just released its annual Out of Reach Report. The report says that in order for someone to rent a two-bedroom apartment in the state without spending more than 30 percent of their income, they would need to earn $23.43 an hour. Think about how many more people will end up homeless.
Food costs have risen at unprecedented rates during the pandemic. Think about how many more people will have to rely on food banks and SNAP benefits just to get enough to eat? Think about how many workers will leave the state because they cannot survive here. The only sure way to prevent this is to re-establish and raise New Hampshire’s minimum wage.
Governor Sununu has a responsibility to protect New Hampshire workers from being exploited during these difficult times. The people who stock our grocery shelves and ring up our orders, the people who clean and disinfect our hospitals, and the foodservice workers who have risked their own health going into nursing homes every day during this pandemic to make sure the elderly residents are fed are counting on you, Governor Sununu.
Do the right thing and sign HB 731.
Beg to differ? Agree to disagree? Send your thoughtful prose to firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line: The Soapbox.
Kathy Staub lives in Manchester and is a community contributor for Manchester Ink Link.