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Another View - Donna Soucy: Time to raise the minimum wage

February 24. 2017 12:27AM

Editor’s Note: The Senate Commerce Committee is currently considering SB 83, a bill to establish the New Hampshire minimum wage at $8.50 per hour, rising to $12 per hour by September 2018.

IF LAST YEAR’S elections have taught us anything, it’s that elected officials cannot ignore our working families, particularly those who feel that the system is rigged against them. It’s not hard to understand why people feel ignored. While the stock market hits record highs and corporate profits are back at pre-recession levels, workers continue to struggle to make ends meet. That’s why it’s time to raise New Hampshire’s minimum wage.

Our state’s economy is strong and we must find ways to continue our economic growth. At just 2.6 percent, our state’s unemployment rate is the lowest in the country. But with such a low unemployment rate, it’s tough for our businesses to attract and retain good workers, especially when surrounding states have higher minimum wages. We need to use every tool available to compete against our neighboring New England states, especially for young workers and their families. Increasing the minimum wage is a common sense step we can take to accelerate our economic growth.

That’s why I’ve sponsored SB 83, which will gradually increase New Hampshire’s minimum wage to $12 per hour. A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute showed that by raising our minimum wage to $12 per hour, 141,000 Granite Staters would be positively affected by this increase. 84 percent of this affected group are over the age of 20 and 60 percent are women. Strengthening the financial security of 141,000 New Hampshire workers and their families is not only the right thing to do, but the best thing for our economy.

But it’s not just those directly affected by this increase that will see benefits. It will have a ripple effect on wages higher up the pay scale. It puts money in the pockets of consumers, who will in turn spend it on goods and services right here in New Hampshire.

Some may argue that we should just let the free market take care of wages. That’s great in theory, but despite our strengthened economy and cutting business taxes, wages have still declined over the last decade.

A report released last year by the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute showed that median hourly wages for New Hampshire workers declined by 6.8 percent from 2007 to 2015. If we are going to reverse that trend and put more money in the pockets of our workers, it’s time to raise the minimum wage.

For far too long our state has taken the opposite approach. Our minimum wage has not been increased in almost a decade, and in the wake of the Great Recession, the Republican-led Legislature eliminated our state minimum wage completely. This law had been an important protection for our workers and had provided security for Granite Staters since the 1940s.

Without a state minimum wage, New Hampshire defaults to the federal rate and allows the chaos and dysfunction in Washington to dictate our wages. And regardless of political affiliation, I don’t think any Granite Stater expects results out of Washington anytime soon.

New Hampshire’s economy is on solid footing, but we should be proactive in expanding opportunity for all, not just those at the top. We’ve taken care of our businesses by cutting corporate taxes and now it’s time to make sure our working families share in our growing economy.

If you agree with me that increasing the minimum wage is a critical step forward we can take to support our working families and continue growing our economy, I urge you to contact your state senator and tell them to support SB 83.

Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, is lead sponsor of SB 83.

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