^ collecting signatures : in huge amounts, too, to do the right thing

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Yesterday, a group of activists known as RaiseUpMass announced that they had gathered 275,828 (!) signatures on petitions to place on Massachusetts’s 2014 ballot a referendum hiking our state’s minimum wage to $ 11.00 an hour. The pay rise would take place in stages, achieving the $ 11.00 level by 2016.

We strongly support the proposal. We will advocate a Yes vote all the way until election day. RaiseUpMass says that more voter signatures than the already awesome total are arriving at its headquarters. We like this.

For far too long, workers in low-skill and service jobs have seen their take home pay stand pat, or increase by measly amounts and then only after years of service. So low is the pay of many thousands of workers that they and their families need EBT, section 8 housing certificates, food stamps and the like in order simply to survive. These aids paid for by taxpayers — who thus find their tax dollars subsidizing the low-wage policies of low-pay businesses. Why should taxpayers have to do this ? And, given the current climate in which some Massachusetts legislators seek votes by demonizing the poor, why should low-wage workers have to beg taxpayers for survival money ? Life is hard enough for low-wage workers without having to worry which vital assistance program upon which they depend will be cut next week.

Let us say it clearly : no full-time worker should ever have to need public assistance just to make basic ends meet.

The rise to $ 11.00 is not enough. That it will take three years to reach that figure is not good. Still, passage of this pay hike law gives low-wage workers assurance that their continued hard work will we rewarded somewhat. We can hope that the Legislature enact legislation filed by State Rep. Denise Provost of Somerville : it calls for a rise to $12.50 an hour by 2016. At that figure, a full-time low-wage worker would earn $ 500 a week, $ 26,000.00 a year. A family with two such workers would then earn enough to enter the discretionary spending market. Consumers’ discretionary spending is what really boosts the economy. Survival spending — for food, rent, utilities, and clothes — matters, but discretionary spending — for cell phones, cable television, a car, summer camp for the kids, day care, maybe even a movie or a restaurant — pumps the economy much more. Getting as many people as possible into the growth economy should be a vital policy goal. Enacting a $ 12.50 wage will get us there.

The American economy faces no threat graver than huge income inequality. How can an economy grow best if less and less people can participate in it except on the margins ? The top one percent of earners have taken lots of lumps lately for the gross hugeness of their pay checks, but they seldom get nailed for the worst consequence thereof : that multi-million-dollar incomes simply CANNOT be spent. Even the most expensive food, homes, cars, and vacations only cost so much. All the rest of these multi-million pay checks gets shoveled into hedge and private equity funds, where the money simply rolls over from one paper investment vehicle to the next in search of arbitrage. It is money TAKEN OUT OF the real economy. It stunts economic growth.

Investment money that invests only in paper self-defeats. Investment money should invest in businesses; innovation; real people doing real things. A lot of investment money does do that, but nowhere near enough.

Because investment multi-millions, left to themselves, simply attract to them more and more of the money that should be funding the economy, legislation must set at least a bottom limit on how much of the economy’s money excess earnings can take. A reasonably capitalist economy cannot, and should not, legislate pay equality. But we can, and should, legislate a minimum pay sufficient to free full-time workers from needing taxpayer dollars.

So be it.

Lastly, we reject the arguments of those who oppose minimum wage legislation. They adduce that raising the minimum wage will stifle employment of teens. Well ? We like teenagers as much as anyone. we approve of their wanting to work. but the first obligation of our society’s economy is to families — to adult, full-time wage earners. Scant wages earned by teenagers won’t do anybody any good if they come at the expense of mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts who can’t make ends meet without public assistance that can be cut any time “welfare reform” politicians decide to throw poison darts at it.

As for businesses that complain that higher work pay will force them to close or lay off workers, we repeat what Boston mayor candidate John Barros said at a Forum : “If you can’t afford to pay your workers fairly you can’t afford to open a business.” Another way of saying this is, “you don’t like unions ? You don’t fancy the intimidation and violence that often accompany job actions ? Then don’t force workers to go that route in order to get decently paid !”

We’ll say it again: vote “yes” on this referendum !

— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

PS : while we’re at it, yes : we also support paid sick leave.