Editorial: Minimum wage increase gives boost we need
Proponents of increasing the minimum wage, the majority of them Democrats, say history proves that any job losses that result are short term and negligible. People at the bottom of the economic ladder spend all the money they earn. When they earn more, their added spending boosts the economy and creates jobs. Raising the minimum wage would also reduce the need for taxpayer assistance in the form of food stamps and other benefits and it supports work over welfare, proponents argue.
This paper believes that’s true, and it supports increasing the minimum wage. It’s also the right thing to do in the interest of fairness. At the minimum wage, a full-time employee earns $15,080 per year, an amount which, while slightly more than the official poverty level for one person, is not enough to live on decently. One minimum-wage income is below the poverty line for two people, a mother and child, for example. In fact, it would take 2.8 full-time minimum wage jobs to pay the rent on the average two-bedroom apartment in New Hampshire.
While it’s often said that minimum-wage jobs are held primarily by kids, that isn’t true. Three-quarters of minimum wage earners are over age 20, and two-thirds of them are women, including single mothers. For them, and other low-wage workers, New Hampshire is a particularly harsh place to live. It has the nation’s 12th highest cost of living. Rent, heating and electricity costs and food cost more than in most places and public transportation is limited, which can make owning a vehicle a necessity.
To its shame, New Hampshire’s Legislature abolished the state minimum wage two years ago. What remains is the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, a rate lower than in any other state in New England. For a state that’s supposedly making every effort to retain and attract young people it sends a terrible message.
Most youths, when they leave their home town or state to seek their fortune, go where they believe the living is better and opportunities for employment are many. Few arrive as highly skilled or experienced workers. They go to a place they perceive as cool and pursue their dreams and their education, often while holding a relatively menial job to keep body and soul together. In time, if they can make enough to live on, they stay. Many become the entrepreneurs, artists, high-tech workers, economic pioneers and employers that make an economy hum.
New Hampshire’s combination of very high rents and a very low minimum wage is a disincentive, a dismal reality that may be discouraging the young from flocking to the state as they once did.
New Hampshire has most of the elements that draw millenials, the twenty- and thirty-somethings now building families and careers. But look around. The minimum wage in Vermont is $8.60, in Massachusetts $8. Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York are all raising their minimum wage, in most cases in stages that will bring them to or near $9 per hour by 2016. California, another youth magnet, is raising its minimum wage to $10 by 2016. Oregon is at $8.95, Colorado at $7.78, Washington $9.19.
A Gallup poll released earlier this month found that 76 percent of those polled favor increasing the minimum wage. More states are sure to do so in coming months. If New Hampshire isn’t one of them, its low-wage workers will continue to suffer, and attempts to keep the state from getting even grayer could prove futile.