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Is It Time for a Raise?


The Massachusetts House of Representatives will soon be debating the merits of raising the Commonwealth’s Minimum Wage rate. As you know, the Senate voted at the end of last year to hike the rate from $8.00/hour to $11.00/hour by 2016, a jump of nearly 40%, which would give Massachusetts the highest minimum wage in the country by more than a dollar over California.

It’s been seven years since the legislature last increased the rate from $7.50 to its current level of $8.00. Additionally, Massachusetts is one of two states to require time and half on Sunday (Rhode Island the other) meaning that Sunday’s minimum wage would rise from $12.00/hour to $16.50/hour in three years. There are many good reasons stated for increasing the wage, after all it has been seven years. The cost of living has increased and those at the bottom of the pay scale feel that impact disproportionately. As the father of a working high school student, I love the idea of her making almost 40% more. That means more of my money stays in my wallet instead of her purse. However, as an employer, I’m not so sure I feel the same way. Teen employment in Massachusetts has plummeted from 53% in 1999 to 27% in 2012. In fact, if the supermarket that employs my daughter has to pay its employees more, they might determine that they need to get by with fewer employees. In which case, my daughter could be using me as an ATM once again. Hmm.

So what to do? The Boston Business Journal has been critical of the business community’s lack of a cohesive voice on business issues such as this. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), Retailers Association of Massachusetts (RAM) and Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) have all begun to speak out either against the minimum wage increase or at least in favor of a reduced increase tied to a review of the state’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) system. The Chamber of Commerce in Springfield has come out in favor of increasing the minimum wage, but not to the levels suggested by the Senate.

The argument made by many employer groups is that the state already has the most generous unemployment benefit system and the highest cost of healthcare, why add to that the highest minimum wage in the nation? For years business leaders have argued for reforms that bring our unemployment system in line with others across the nation in terms of benefit duration, qualification and amounts. You want to hike up the minimum wage, say the employer groups, then let’s talk about reforming UI at the same time. House Speaker DeLeo has shown a willingness to take this approach.

The NVCC’s Government Affairs Committee discussed the issue at its most recent meeting and decided to survey the Chamber’s membership to get a sense of how you see the issue. Your input matters to us, and it matters to our elected officials. Is the proposed increase a cure for the slow economy by putting more money in worker’s pockets? Is it a job killer? Should the debate include UI reform? If so, what should reform look like? These are all questions that will be debated in the coming weeks. Let us know what you think. Please take a moment to complete the short survey when it arrives in your inbox next week. All responses will be anonymous, but we will share overall results when they are in.