Jonathan P. Baird: New Hampshire, it’s time to raise the minimum wage

For the Monitor
Published: 1/21/2019 12:15:15 AM

Back in 2012, a small group of fast-food workers in New York launched the Fight for $15 movement. In the six years since, the success of the effort to raise the minimum wage has been remarkable.

Twenty-two million low-wage workers have gotten a raise. The National Employment Law Project estimates the movement has won $68 billion in raises. Twenty states and two-dozen local jurisdictions have dramatically upped their minimum wages, including all New England states, with the exception of New Hampshire.

All the dire predictions about the adverse consequences of minimum wage increases have proven to be false. Contrary to the doomsayers, the sky has not fallen and in many jurisdictions, employment has actually increased.

Massachusetts and Vermont are raising their state minimum wage to $15, effective in 2023 and 2024, respectively. Massachusetts is now at $12 an hour, and Vermont is now at $11.50 an hour. Maine has approved a $12 an hour minimum wage, effective in 2020.

So what is with New Hampshire? The minimum wage in New Hampshire is $7.25 an hour. It is not enough to say we are contrarian. That is too nice. In this instance, New Hampshire government is anti-worker, callously out of touch with what it costs to live today.

Low wages translate into workers living in poverty.

In 2011, our state Legislature repealed the state minimum wage law. Because the federal minimum wage pre-empted state law, New Hampshire was prevented from crashing under the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. If not for the federal law, New Hampshire would have had no wage floor.

Gross exploitation could have become the new normal.

I recall earlier minimum wage fights in New Hampshire when advocates fought to raise the state minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour. It took five legislative efforts over a period of 10 years to achieve that raise, which passed in the 2007 legislative session.

So many of the old arguments against a minimum wage increase are the same as you hear now: It will hurt business, especially small business. It will require price increases, and it will cause hourly employee cuts and job losses. If those arguments have merit, how come so many states have successfully raised the minimum wage with good economic results?

For low-wage workers, raising the minimum wage is a much-needed step to help overcome decades of stagnating wages. Both low-wage and middle-income workers have experienced stagnating wages for the last 40 years.

While the harm has been significant for both low- and middle-income workers, it is low-wage workers who have been particularly hammered. The cost of living, especially the cost of housing, health care and higher education, has outpaced wages. The terrible crisis of homelessness is one outcome.

Recognizing that low wages is a problem is something that those with the most income, wealth and political power have tried to obscure, but weak wage growth is a result of deliberate and intentional policy choices by the powerful. The income of the 1 percent has not been stagnant – it has skyrocketed. Policy choices can be reversed, as many states are showing.

I am struck by the fact that Massachusetts is implementing a minimum wage that is double the New Hampshire minimum. How to explain that? The disparity is enormous.

When I previously worked as a lobbyist in the New Hampshire Legislature, I learned the rule to never use a Massachusetts example to make your case. Massachusetts was Taxachusetts. It was the Big Satan to the south, full of rules and regulations. You have to ask though: How can one state be so much more generous to its workers than another?

Polling shows that raising the minimum wage to at least $12.50 an hour is massively popular with Americans across the board. Even raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 is supported by 63 percent of Americans. Those who believe this is just a blue state phenomenon are wrong.

In the 2018 midterms, voters in Arkansas and Missouri approved ballot initiatives raising the minimum wage. Arkansas is moving up to $11 an hour and Missouri, through steps, is going from $7.85 an hour to $12 an hour.

I saw that there are bills in the upcoming New Hampshire Legislature to restore and raise the minimum wage in our state. With the Democratic majorities in both Houses, passage of minimum-wage legislation is an almost certain likelihood. It will be interesting to see how Gov. Chris Sununu responds.

(Jonathan P. Baird lives in Wilmot and blogs at jonathanpbaird.com.)




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