Minimum wage increase: Dignity, or job killer?

This article highlights the organizing of JOIN alum, Julie Aronowitz ’07-’08, and her work with Brockton Interfaith Community.

Proponents of the increase say it will make a small but much-needed improvement for the working poor, while the South Shore Chamber of Commerce says it could cost jobs.

By Chris Burrell
This post was origianlly posted on The Enterprise News on February 11th 2014.

QUINCY – Proponents of raising the minimum wage in Massachusetts to $11 an hour know the move won’t lift many low-wage workers out of the ranks of the working poor but they say it will make a small difference in their earning power.

“People should earn enough to have their families live with dignity, and we’ve got to start somewhere,” said Julie Aronowitz, an organizer with Brockton Interfaith Community. “One of my leaders, a minimum wage worker, said the difference of $2 or $3 an hour is not going to change her life, but it means her daughter can buy food and diapers.”

With the Massachusetts Senate on record for supporting a minimum wage hike from $8 to $11 by 2016 and some representatives pushing for passage to make the state have the highest minimum wage in the U.S., the talk is drawing fire from business leaders.

“Having the highest minimum wage in the country is absolutely meaningless if there is no job attached to it,” said Peter Forman, president and CEO of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce in Rockland. “As costs go up, employers have to start making decisions … and it could force more people out of work.”

The Legislature raised the minimum wage in 2006, gradually increasing it to $8 per hour by 2008.

The proposed boost in minimum wage would do little to put rental housing in Greater Boston within closer reach of low-wage workers. The gross monthly income for a full-time minimum-wage employee would total $1,906, while the median rent in the region is $1,160 a month – 60 percent of gross pay.

An analysis by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center in Boston found that 589,000 people in the state would see their wages increase if the Legislature approved a measure, and 57 percent of them would be female workers.

The increase in wages would give the workers more spending power, stimulate the economy and create more jobs, the budget and policy center argued in a 2012 report.

State Rep. Tom Conroy, D-Wayland, has proposed legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $11 next year.

“This is a concrete way that I’m trying to fight on behalf of all those folks who are struggling on the margins,” Conroy, who is now running for state treasurer, said Monday.

The $8-an-hour minimum wage in Massachusetts has fallen behind those of neighboring states. In November the Senate advanced a bill that would increase the minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2016.

In a recent debate, four of the Democratic candidates for governor said they backed effort to raise the minimum wage to $11 per hour.

Despite that support, Aronowitz wished the debate went deeper.

“Eleven dollars an hour is not the place where we want it to end,” she said. “We’d much rather have a living wage, which would be far more dignified. But legislators aren’t exercising leadership around that.”

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