State House Memo: Let’s give New Hampshire’s hardest workers a raise

Recently the House Labor Committee held a hearing on HB 1403, a bill that would increase the minimum wage in New Hampshire from $7.25 per hour to $8.25 next January and $9 in January of 2016, with modest increases indexed to inflation in the future.

If we pass this bill, it would mean a raise for one in every eight workers whose wages haven’t kept pace with cost of living for more than 30 years and allow them to join the economic mainstream.

Since 1979, one hour of work at New Hampshire’s minimum wage could purchase the equivalent of $9.47 in today’s dollars.

In other words, inflation has eaten away more than $2 per hour in purchasing power in the past 35 years and has affected 76,000 of our friends, family and neighbors.

When they hear about raising the minimum wage, many people think back to their first jobs, working in a convenience store or fast food place after school or on weekends. Everybody brings their own experiences to debates in the Legislature, but in this case, anecdotes from one’s own life can be deceiving.

Average minimum-wage workers are no longer teens beginning their working life. They’re adults – with adult responsibilities and adult expenses to pay for like utilities, housing, food for their families and transportation.

Some basic facts about Americans working at minimum wage jobs are in order.

∎ Seventy-two percent are not teens; they’re 20 years old or older.

∎ Fully 36 percent 30 or older.

∎ Fifty-nine percent are women.

∎ Fourteen percent are parents.

∎ Roughly 21,000 children in New Hampshire have a mother or father who would experience a pay raise from a higher minimum wage.

With a higher minimum wage, these workers will have more money to spend, which in turn gives virtually every New Hampshire business more customers – helping them to hire more workers and kick-starting a cycle of prosperity.

This cycle, driven by $64 million in additional wages paid out over the next two years to low-income households – households that by necessity spend every dollar they earn – would put our economy on a steady basis as we move out of the Great Recession.

When opponents claim that a minimum wage increase leads to fewer jobs, they’re missing the fact that most jobs are created by middle-class consumers buying what businesses large and small are selling. Growth comes from the middle out, not the top down. By putting more money in the pockets of hardworking families in New Hampshire, we are building a more durable economy going forward.

This isn’t a partisan issue. Recent polling finds that 76 percent of Granite Staters, including majorities of Republicans, independents and Democrats, support increasing the minimum wage to $9. People across the ideological spectrum realize that raising the minimum wage would help lift thousands of Granite State workers out of poverty, stimulate the economy and help families across the state leave behind dependence on food stamps, heating oil assistance and Medicaid.

The time has come to realize that our neighbors working for minimum wage deserve a raise. Our economy will be improved by bringing these workers back into the economic mainstream.

(State Rep. Jan Schmidt is a Democrat from Nashua. Rep. Rebecca Emerson-Brown is a Democrat from Portsmouth. Rep. Sally Kelly is a Democrat from Chichester.)

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