In the midst of her campaign for the November gubernatorial election, Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley called for a minimum wage increase Tuesday at the Government Affairs Forum.
The forum was held at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce where Coakley delivered a speech addressing income inequality and its effect on Massachusetts. Coakley spoke about the negative impacts of income inequality in Massachusetts, while encouraging the 100 business leaders in attendance to take action.
“Inequality robs people of hope — for themselves and their children, and deprives too many of the opportunity to build a better life,” she said. “It breaks up our communities as rents and home prices rise, forcing countless families to seek out more affordable housing — or worse — pushing them into homelessness. It reminds us just how far off the American dream is, still for far too many here in Massachusetts.”
Massachusetts is one of at least 30 states expected to introduce measures to raise the minimum wage, according to a national review by the Associated Press.
Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of community organizations, has been making strides to put questions about higher minimum wage and earned sick time on the Nov. 2014 ballot, said Steve Crawford, spokesperson for the activist group.
“[Coakley] deserves credit for taking a stand in front of a potentially hostile crowd,” he said. “[Raising minimum wage] helps struggling families who are really on the edge of economic collapse. If you are a low wage worker making minimum wage, any additional dollar in your pocket you’re going to spend on necessities to generate economic activity.”
Coakley said granting people higher wages and sick days as a means of job security is a matter of equality.
“We also should provide earned sick time to every worker because no one should be at risk of losing wages or their jobs if they stay home sick or to care a family member,” she said. “That is simply unfair.”
Coakley also spoke about the value of education in the global economy. With a wider variety of opportunities for students in public schools and a rejuvenated effort to connect young people to summer jobs, students in Massachusetts will gain the skills and experience they need, she said.
“We need to transform our schools to give all kids an opportunity to succeed in a global economy,” she said. “That starts with offering universal pre-k education, and restructuring the school day and school year, especially in some of our underperforming districts. We also need to improve all students’ access to curricula and work experiences that help them connect with high-quality jobs.”
Travis Shofner, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Democratic Party, said income inequality is a growing problem in Massachusetts and leaders of all political parties should be taking part in the discussion.
“The growing gap in income inequality is a major issue that needs to be addressed by our leaders,” he said. “Our Democratic candidates aren’t afraid to take a position and find themselves on the right side of this issue, calling for an increase in the minimum wage to help working families.”
Several residents said increasing minimum wage in Massachusetts would help offset the high cost of living and reduce income inequality.
Joe Couture, 34, of Boston, said he is not surprised to see Coakley pushing for change because minimum wage is a national issue as well as a state issue.
“I have seen first hand some of the hard discrepancies in wages between the executive and blue collar workers which has become more so in the last 40 years,” he said. [The push for higher minimum wage] is not surprising coming from a democratic candidate. It might contribute to mobilizing her constituency. It’s in line with her core values.”
Melanie Glen, 50, of Boston, said she hopes Coakley makes increasing minimum wage a priority.
“[The issue of] minimum wage should stand on it’s own,” she said. “That and unemployment are two totally different things. It’d be more effective to pursue [minimum wage] first. Minimum wage needs to be raised. I would hope she’s being genuine about it.”
Joe Connors, 38, of Jamaica Plain, said he is wary of Coakley’s intentions behind supporting a minimum wage increase, but he agrees that minimum wage is an important issue that needs to be addressed.
“The cost of living is high in Boston,” he said. “Everything’s going up except wages. You can’t get a one-bedroom apartment under $1,200. People making less than $300 a day aren’t well off.”