Sen. Donna Soucy

Sen. Donna Soucy

IT SHOULDN’T BE so expensive to live and raise a family in New Hampshire. As Senate President, I’m working hard to build a New Hampshire economy where everyone has the opportunities and resources they need to succeed.

Unemployment in New Hampshire sits at 2.4 percent, poverty is at 7.3 percent, and our per-capita income is fifth in the country, but those numbers don’t paint the full picture of our state’s economy. They don’t represent the single mother working two minimum-wage jobs and struggling to pay the bills, the college student trying to cover tuition, the person in recovery working to rebuild their life, or the laborer whose skillset isn’t a match for evolving business needs and has given up looking for work.

One of the most important steps to improving our economy for everyday Granite Staters is re-establishing and raising the minimum wage. Our $7.25 wasn’t a living wage in 2009 and it certainly isn’t a living wage in 2019. For 10 years, New Hampshire’s minimum wage has stagnated while the inflation rate rose 16.51 percent in the same period. While costs for everything from a loaf of bread to a gallon of gas to daycare continue to increase, hardworking Granite Staters are forced to do more with less — or turn to government programs just to get by.

The fight for a living wage is one I’ve been waging every legislative session since I was first elected to the Senate in 2013. SB 10 is my seventh minimum wage bill and is designed to gradually increase New Hampshire’s minimum wage to $12 per hour.

This legislation leaves ample time for employers to ramp up — raising the minimum wage first to $10 per hour in 2020 and then $12 per hour in 2021, with flexibility for businesses that provide additional benefits, like paid sick days.

A report from the Economic Policy Institute showed that by raising our minimum wage to $12 per hour, 141,000 Granite Staters would be positively affected. While living-wage opponents suggest that our state’s minimum wage workers are just teenagers who need a little extra spending money, the statistics tell a different story. The reality is that 72 percent of minimum wage workers are 20 or older — and 26 percent are over the age of 30.

Almost two-thirds are women and 14 percent have children.

It’s time for New Hampshire to reclaim our leadership on the minimum wage. We were one of the first states to institute a state-specific minimum wage in 1949, 11 years after the federal government established the Fair Labor Standards Act. Unfortunately, we ceded that authority to the federal government in 2011 when a Republican-led legislature nixed New Hampshire’s minimum wage.

Regardless of political party, we should all agree New Hampshire is better equipped to make economic decisions that impact our workers and businesses than politicians in Washington, D.C.

Someone working full time at the current $7.25 minimum wage makes $300 a week or $15,080 a year — anyone who has tried to manage a household budget in New Hampshire knows that’s not enough to make ends meet.

Instead, these hardworking Granite Staters are forced to turn to the state for benefits that help them fill the gaps, like food stamps and child-care assistance. It’s simply unacceptable in the 21st century, that anyone working full time can’t make ends meet or that state taxpayers should be subsidizing companies who refuse to pay their employees a fair wage.

Strengthening the financial security of New Hampshire workers and their families is not only the right thing to do morally, it’s the best thing for our economy. Raising the minimum wage 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.

Plus, workers who feel they’re being fairly compensated for their hard work, and who face less financial stress, are better employees.

Right now, New Hampshire is an island — our minimum wage is at least $3 below neighboring states and the lowest in all of New England. It’s tough for our businesses to attract and retain good workers when they can simply drive across state lines for higher wages.

Increasing the minimum wage is a common-sense step we can take to retain workers and accelerate our economic growth.

New Hampshire values work — and we should do all we can to make sure people working full-time earn enough to support themselves and their families.

Increasing the minimum wage is a critical step forward we can take to support our working families and continue growing our economy.

I urge members of the New Hampshire Senate to join me to support SB 10.

Sen. Donna Soucy serves as Senate president and represents Manchester.