“Those people don’t deserve more than $10 an hour.”
This is one of the statements I heard at a recent community forum hosted by Rep. Parent and the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association on S. 40.
S.40 would raise Vermont’s minimum wage incrementally from $10.50 to $15 an hour by the year 2024. It’s no secret that the cost of living continues to increase each year: housing, child care, medical expenses…these cost more today in Vermont than they did yesterday.
I’ve been fortunate to receive a cost of living adjustment almost every year when I worked with the state, and now in my non-profit job. Our elected officials also receive raises to keep up with growing costs. Why shouldn’t families working the hardest to make ends meet and put food on the table also see an increase?
At this forum much of the focus was on high school students, as if they are the face of minimum wage earners in Vermont. But the reality is that 87% of minimum wage earners in Vermont are adults, and on average they provide 63% of their total family income.
And in fact, 56% of minimum wage earners in Vermont are women. Though women represent less than half of the workforce, they outnumber men when it comes to low wage work. More than 1 in 4 women who work full-time in our state do not make enough to cover basic living expenses. (This was highlighted at the forum when one brave woman stood up and said, “Those people? You’re talking about me! I spent most of my life working two to three jobs to support my children as a single parent.)
In my work at Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity I see too many of my neighbors struggling to make ends meet even though they are doing everything they can: working multiple jobs, turning to the food shelf between pay checks, living frugally and trying to balance budgets that aren’t possible to balance. Raising the minimum wage would raise pay by an average of $2,000 a year for more than three in ten working Vermonters.
Will $15 an hour solve poverty in Vermont? No. But it is a needed step in the right direction to help families get by until we do. They deserve that! We deserve that.