Denise Provost

St. Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville)

It’s been years since Massachusetts raised the minimum wage it will allow firms to pay their workers. Our state’s minimum sits at $ 8.00 an hour, and that’s nowhere near enough for a family of two minimum wage workers to pay the most basic living expenses in many parts of our State. Rents in particular have increased dramatically in the greater Boston area. So has the cost of fuel oil and gasoline. Even fares on the MBTA have risen 50 percent.

Two bills, H 1757 and H 1701, have been filed, by Representatives Cabral (D-New Bedford) and Provost (D-Somerville), that will raise the pay amount. Cabral’s bill raises the minimum to $ 9.00 an hour this year and $ 10.00 the next. Rep. Provost’s bill is more radical. It raises the minimum immediately to $ 11.00, to $ 11.50 in 2014, and $ 12.00 in 2015. Both bills, along with companion Senate bills filed by Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton), now stand before the Masschusetts House and Senate’s Joint Committee on Labor and Employment. Hearings have been held. The proposals all raise the minimum wage for tip-receiving workers from $ 2.63 an hour to $ 6.30.

Already the opposition has begun. The Massachusetts Restaurant assocaition, predictably, is complaining. So are other small business lobbying groups. We disagree with the opposition and support the more radical of the two proposals. We think that $ 11.00 an hour is neither too much nor a detriment to Massachusetts businesses.

Minimum wage wotrkers fo not remove their income from the economy. They do not stash it. Even at $ 11.00 to $ 12.00 an hour they will need to spend every dollar — on vital purchases they must now defer: clothing for the kids, car repair if they have a car, otherwise maybe a car purchase; summer camp for the kids, maybe a new cell phone to replace the old or broken one; maybe even a dog for the household — because dogs make happy those who they live with (and happiness is a good thing for people’s health. Happiness cuts down on employee sick days). All of these deferred spendings, now able to be spent upon, represent an increase in business for the firms that provide such goods and services; business that Massachusetts firms cannot now get becasuse minimum wage workers don’t have it to spend.

Two other objections to Rep. Provost’s radical minimum wage raise merit response:

First : $ 11.00 and $ 12.00 an hour may be vitally needed in greater Boston, where rents are impossibly high and everything including food and transport costs more but in outlying cities of the state it’s quite generous. To which we respond ; actually, even in outlying cities the greaster raise is needed, because ( a ) workers commute longer distances ( b ) live far away from medical care and so — because for many minimum wage families, a car is beyond budget — may need taxi fare; and ( c ) often have larger families than in socially more single-life Boston and thus have a much larger clothing and household supplies budget.

Second : the higher raise is likely to cause fast food retailers, in particular, but also very samll businesses of all kinds, to simply lay off people. The evidence of past raises, though, is that businesses do not downsize; they simply increases prices. Which in turn leads, as has been pointed out, to higher costs for people living on retirement income — costs not easily absorbed. That is true; but Social Security payments include a cost of living increase. It isn’t as great an increase, in percent, as Rep. Provost’s 38 to 50 % raise, but it Is something.

For all of these reasons, we at Here and Sphere support Rep. Provost’s minimum wage increase. People who work full-time shouldn’t have to liver in poverty.

— The Editors / Here and Sphere