In his appearance before the Berkshire Business Roundtable Tuesday at the Country Club of Pittsfield, Governor Deval Patrick stuck to his guns on the need for a raise in the minimum wage in Massachusetts. With no hike in the federal minimum wage coming this year and no guarantee on how the next governor will view the issue, it is incumbent upon the Massachusetts Legislature to put a bill hiking the state minimum wage on the governor’s desk this session.
In response to a question from the audience, the governor echoed his State of the State speech in inviting opponents of hiking the minimum wage, which is $8 an hour in the state, to try to live on it. It is not a livable wage, especially for an employee with children to raise, who will find himself or herself below the poverty level. Because the wage is so low, minimum wage workers are able to qualify for state and federal assistance, which enables corporations like Wal-Mart to keep profit margins high by requiring taxpayers to subsidize the salaries of their employees.
Some companies are stepping up to the plate by raising the minimum wage they pay employees, with the San Francisco-based Gap hiking the wage to $9 an hour this year and $10 an hour in 2015. Eastern Massachusetts car dealer Ernie Boch Jr. is raising the minimum wage of his employees to $10.10 an hour as of April 1 and is urging government to follow his lead.
A revealing controlled experiment is ongoing in the state of Washington, which in 1998 raised its minimum wage and linked it to the cost of living. The state’s minimum wage of $9.32 is the highest in the country, and according to a report in this month’s Moneynews magazine, Washington’s annual job growth rate of 0.8 percent has slightly exceeded the national growth rate over the past 15 years. Predictions that Washington’s action would be a job-killer have been proven false.
The federal minimum wage was $1.25 an hour 50 years ago, and every increase since has been fought with the same arguments about job-killing and business-breaking that have been consistently disproven. Nothing will happen this year in Washington where Republican leaders, no friends of the worker, oppose a minimum wage hike that polls show has bipartisan support by dredging up the same tired rationale.
Given this reality, the responsibility in Massachusetts rests with Beacon Hill, and the Senate has passed legislation incrementally increasing the wage to $11 an hour in 2016. It is now up to the House to do the same so Governor Patrick can sign the increase into law, benefiting not only underpaid workers but the state’s economy as well. Beyond that, it is simply the right and fair thing to do.