As we observed Labor Day Monday, we did more than fire up the barbecue and bid farewell to summer. We also took a moment to survey the workforce, and assess how it’s going for our working families.
While it’s still challenging out there, especially for low-wage workers, there are many bright spots. Here in New England, the region leads the way in labor laws, ensuring robust compensation, protections at work and rights to organize.
Sadly, one notable exception is New Hampshire. The thin line that separates us from bordering states is a dark one for low-wage workers. Oxfam America recently reviewed state labor laws across the country and our state ranks at No. 23 — whereas all the other New England states are in the top 10.
Much of this has to do with our wage policies, where New Hampshire ranks nearly last. This is largely about our minimum wage, which is rock bottom in the country, stuck for over 10 years at the federal minimum of $7.25 (a poverty wage for a family of two). Thirty states have raised their minimum wages, including all New England states — from a low of $10.10 in Connecticut to a high of $12 in Massachusetts.
It’s not that it’s inexpensive to live here. In fact, the “living wage” for a family in New Hampshire is higher, at $25.50 an hour, than it is in Maine at $25.25 an hour. A full-time minimum wage worker here is earning just 28 percent of what they need to support a family; in Maine, where the minimum is $11, it’s 44 percent.
Think of it: working 40 hours a week, a minimum-wage worker brings home $290 a week.
These are not teenagers earning spending money. The workers who would benefit from a bump to $15 by 2024 (as proposed in the federal Raise the Wage Act), are people struggling to raise families and overcome obstacles.
Over a quarter of our workforce would benefit from a minimum wage raise — that’s 173,000 people.
Moreover, low wages and inadequate worker protections reinforce and exacerbate longstanding inequities by gender. Women do a disproportionate share of low-wage jobs. Of those who’d see a bump in wages, 61 percent are women. Reasons for the gender wage gap are many, and complicated, but one solution is simple: raise wages for all workers, and women get a significant bump.
The labor index considers more than just wages, however. In rights to organize, New Hampshire does well. However, we fall short on protections — especially those that are important to women and parents.
New Hampshire does not provide paid sick or family leave, does not offer accommodations for women who are breastfeeding and does not offer protections around scheduling. These laws establish conditions that have real impact on people. Workers who have families, especially women and single parents, struggle to continue working while having and raising children.
The result is that working families are suffering. Stagnant wages make it harder to pay the bills every month. Inflexible schedules make it nearly impossible to balance work and family. Lack of paid leave means people are working while they’re ill.
We can do better. And it won’t hurt our economy, or our well-being. Other states have taken steps forward — and their economies are stronger than ever.
Yes, our unemployment rate is a healthy 2.4 percent; in Vermont, where the minimum wage is $10.78, it’s 2.1 percent.
It must be said that our state legislature is trying to make progress for working families — but is facing an obstacle in Gov. Chris Sununu.
He recently set a modern record for gubernatorial vetoes in a single year — including one to raise the minimum wage to $10 in 2020.
These laws are more than a political game: they determine how well our working families are doing. Let’s step up and make a difference.