Massachusetts legislators are considering a bill that, if passed, would gradually increase the minimum wage to $11/hour over the next three years — an even more ambitious wage increase than that proposed by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Massachusetts’s minimum wage is one of the highest in the country, but state legislators are concerned that $8 is insufficient to cover the growing costs of living in the Northeast, particularly in the winter.
Mass. Sen. Marc Pacheco is one of the leaders pushing for this wage increase — the first since 2008.
“It needs to be fixed nationally,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “But we are long overdue to increase the minimum wage here in Massachusetts.”
Massachusetts law already mandates that the state minimum wage must be at least 10 cents higher than the federal minimum due to the Commmonwealth’s high cost of living. This would ensure a wage increase should Obama’s $9 minimum be accepted.
Massachusetts American Federation of Labor and Congress of International Organzations Legislative and Communications Director Tim Sullivan said a minimum wage raise is long overdue regardless of federal wage minimums.
“A law [increasing the minimum wage] hasn’t been passed since 2006, and the cost of everything has continued to go up,” he said. “It is long past time for a raise in the minimum wage.”
Sullivan said a wage increase could also be beneficial for businesses
“We believe strongly that [the increased minimum wage] positively impacts small, local businesses,” he said. “The more money working class people have, the more money they have to spend in these small businesses.”
The dramatic wage increase proposal has not been met with full support across the state as legislators and state officials debate the urgency and lasting impact of the bill.
Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick said in a statement that minimum wage is not a current priority of his — as minimum wage is still above the federal minimum — but that he is still open to the bill.
“I support the president,” he said. “We already have one of the highest minimum wages in state law, but I’m willing to look at that.”
Ryan Kearney, general counsel at the Retail Association of Massachusetts, said raising the minimum wage could negatively impact small businesses by forcing them to pay more for labor, making it more difficult to stay active.
“It puts Massachusetts at a competitive disadvantage,” Kearney said. “So if it has to be done, it should be done at a federal level so we can stay competitive with other states.”
Kearney said Massachusetts already has provisions that ensure workers are fairly paid. Kearney used the example of “Blue Laws,” which require workers to be paid more on Sundays and other holidays.
Kearney said an increase in the minimum wage could also hurt youth employment numbers.
“With teen unemployment at its highest levels in history, to make people pay a little more for these wages — $12 on a Sunday for some of these part time jobs — can create more unemployment and less opportunity.”
Iyana Rountree, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences at Boston University, said raising the minimum wage would help support many workers in Massachusetts.
“People who have minimum wage jobs don’t really have a lot to begin with, so raising the minimum wage would help them,” she said. “Also the cost of living [in Massachusetts] is higher than in other places.”
Angelina Pizzulli, a freshman in the School of Management, said the wage hike could be used to motivate workers.
“Raising the minimum wage is a good thing because it could act as an efficiency wage and make workers more productive,” she said. “However, it shouldn’t be raised over the equilibrium wage, because that could lead to more unemployment.”
Andrew Velichansky, a freshman at BU in the College of Communications, said minimum wage increase would have a positive impact on the younger portion of the work force.
“For people our age, the minimum wage is especially impactful,” he said. “If we work in school or over the summer, most [students] tend to work at the minimum wage. Some economists say that raising the minimum wage is bad for unemployment, but on an individual level I think it’s great. My summer salary could go up.”