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State House Live: Worker describes life on minimum wage

11:42 a.m.: Anita Mendes, a worker who lives in southwestern New Hampshire, shared an emotional story with the committee about the hardships she’s faced from working for minimum wage.

Mendes told the committee she is well-educated, with a master’s in social work from the University of Connecticut, and that she worked as a community organizer and advocate for domestic violence for years. But for the past four years, she has worked in the nonprofit sector for minimum wage at 18 hours per week. She now relies on her mother, who is more than 90 years old, and her two children for support.

She told the committee she sews her own clothes because she can’t afford to buy new ones and keeps her house at 62 degrees when she is home. She frequents community dinners in her area and helps set up and clean up afterwards. If the minimum wage went up to $9 an hour, it would greatly lessen these burdens, she said.

“I would feel more valued as a worker, it would ease a lot of stress.”

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11:22 a.m.: Laurel Redden of Housing Action NH told the committee that people making minimum wage are not making enough to afford reasonable housing in New Hampshire. The definition of “affordability” is for 30 percent of a person’s income to go toward housing, leaving enough left over for food and other necessities. By that definition, someone working 40 hours a week at minimum wage has $400 a month to spend on housing, yet the median gross rent in the state for a 2-bedroom apartment is $1,018 a month, Redden said.

“So you can see where that does not leave a household making minimum wage sufficient income to afford not only rent but other necessities,” she said.

Organizations like Housing Action work give people subsidies and vouchers and other means of help to afford housing, but businesses need to contribute, too, Redden said.

“We need not only government, but businesses to come to the table and we need individuals to come to the table to work as hard as they can,” she said.

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11:12 a.m.: Gail Kinney, pastor of the South Danbury Christian Church, asked the committee to think about friends and fellow community members who make $7.25 an hour. To make her point, she shared an email from a member of her church. The email asked whether anyone who opposes a raise of the state’s minimum wage has ever scrounged around the car to find enough change to buy gas and whether they’ve had to choose between food and heating their homes.

“I wish there was a way for the nay voters to spend a week with the families who are suffering,” Kinney read from that email.

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11:01 a.m.: Curtis Barry, a lobbyist for the Retail Merchants Association of New Hampshire, told the committee raising the minimum wage would hurt small businesses for several reasons.

First, he said, it would create wage pressure for all employees, not just those making minimum wage. As the wage for the lowest level employees increases, other employees will also seek an increase in their wages, he said. Furthermore, the higher an employer’s payroll costs, the more they pay in various taxes, he said.

Members of the association consistently said a raise in the minimum wage would result in hiring fewer employees or giving the employees they do have fewer owners, because those business owners will want to keep consistent profits, Barry said.

“They say ‘We will do more with less, I’ll work more myself,’” Barry said.

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10:54 a.m.: Caitlin Rollo, political and research director of Granite State Progress, which supports the bill, shared the following statistics with the committee:

Seventy-two percent of New Hampshire workers making minimum wage are over the age of 20 and 36 percent are over the age of 30, she said. In total, 59 percent are women and 14 percent are parents, she said.

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10:52 a.m.: Kevin Sullivan, a former state representative and chairman of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, asked the committee to not raise the wage for tipped employees, such as waiters and waitresses. The bill would have tipped employees receiving a base wage of 45 percent of the minimum wage. He proposed freezing the tip wage at $3.25 per hour.

Sullivan, who owns Liberty Line Catering, said waiters and waitresses already receive cost of living adjustments, because their tips go up as food prices, and therefore restaurant bills, go up. Tipped employees get an average increase of 3 to 5 percent per year, he said.

“Most tipped employees are making in the range of $15 to $20 an hour,” he said.

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10:37 a.m.: The House Labor Committee has opened a public hearing on a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sally Kelly, a Chichester Democrat, would raise the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour in 2015 then to $9 an hour in 2016. After that, the wage would increase based on the consumer price index. New Hampshire is one of six states without a state minimum wage, meaning it uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Kelly told the committee about a woman she met this weekend who is a single mom raising a 16-year-old son. That woman works at a large retail chain in Concord, where she makes $7.25 an hour, Kelly said.

“This will make a difference in her life,” Kelly said. An increase in this woman’s wage could help her pay a local landlord to rent an apartment and spend money on food and other things in local stores.

“When people increase their wages, the money goes back to our businesses in New Hampshire,” Kelly said.

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The House committee on Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services will hold a hearing this morning starting at 10:15 on House Bill 1403, which would establish a state minimum wage.

We will update this story as the testimony unfolds.

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