Vermonters Urge Lawmakers to Enact a Livable Minimum Wage by 2024

MONTPELIER – The members of the Raise The Wage Coalition believe that working Vermonters deserve dignified, equitable working conditions, and anyone working 40 hours a week ought to be able to afford their basic needs.

The Vermont Raise the Wage Coalition – comprised of more than 30 community groups and statewide organizations – outlined its updated principles and priorities as legislators prepare to increase the state’s minimum wage to livable wage by 2024.

Collectively, Coalition members represent tens of thousands of Vermonters from all corners and regions of the state.

“Too many working Vermonters are forced to choose between paying rent, buying groceries, and affording needed medications,” said Jubilee McGill, a member leader of Rights & Democracy. “I live in Addison County and work in affordable housing, and I have seen firsthand how these low wages can trap people in cycles of poverty when not paid a livable wage.”

“These aren’t choices that Vermonters should have to make,” McGill added, “and that’s why we are calling on the State Legislature to finish the work of the 2019 session and get Vermont on a path to $15 by 2024.”

Mary Chapman, of Middlebury, was homeless for 11 months – finding secure and stable housing this past July. Before being homeless she had worked at a job that made $15 an hour, and she was able to contribute to her community. “I bought a car. My daughter got married. I went on vacation,” she said. “I could live.”

Now, working at the current minimum wage she can barely pay her bills. “I am now a burden to the state – that’s how I feel. I want to be a contributing member to the state again, but I can’t do it on the current minimum wage. I just can’t. I can’t live. I don’t want to leave the state, but you’re not makint it easy for me to stay.”

Each day, thousands of Vermonters like Chapman face the stark choice of what basic necessities to go without in order to maintain housing.

“Vermont workers basically need two minimum wage jobs to be able to afford the average two-bedroom apartment,” said Erhard Mahnke, coordinator for the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition. “A single mom with a minimum wage job should not have to work 85 hours each week to afford a home for herself and her children. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will help lower the gap between what she can afford and what she has to pay for housing in this state.”

Raising the minimum wage does more than just provide a family, or individual, with the basic needs, but a sense of safety and well-being.

“Survivors of domestic and sexual violence and stalking in Vermont face the same economic hurdles as victims across the country. However, given the rural nature of our state, lack of transportation and affordable housing present great barriers for survivors that are living in poverty,” said Kara Casey of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “Having to choose between living in an unsafe home, or becoming homeless is a decision that too many Vermonters are faced with. At the current minimum wage a Vermonter would need to work over 60 hours a week to afford a 1 bedroom apartment.”

Ensuring people can live in dignity and with freedom is also not a partisan issue, added Asma Elhuni, Lead Organizer for United Valley Interfaith Project.

“Livable wages should be an issue everyone gets behind. This is not a partisan issue, it’s a human issue,” said Elhuni. “There is no one who can stand there and say they are fine receiving less than livable wages. This is a no brainer. Vermont must do better!”

“There is no reason why one of the most progressive states in the US can’t ensure livable wages. Those opposed to livable wages should be forced to live in those standards themselves,” she added.

As the Coalition’s Principles outline, a united and fair economy benefits everyone – not just those earning sub-livable wages.

“In what is supposedly the best economy in years, far too many hard-working Vermonters can’t make ends meet despite working full-time. Indeed, many Vermonters struggle to pay for food, rent, clothes, transportation, child care and energy despite working 40, 50, or 60 hours a week,” added Darren Allen of the Vermont-NEA. “No Vermonter should have to work more than one full-time job to meet basic needs. As the late Paul Wellstone – the US Senator from Minnesota who championed the American worker – used to say, ‘We all do better when we all do better.’”

2020 Raise the Wage Principles

Our state’s working standards should reflect the needs of working Vermonters and demonstrate that Vermont upholds the following principles:

A sustainable economy is an equitable economy. Economic growth should not come at the cost of paying workers less than the state’s livable wage.

All workers should earn a livable wage. The proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024 would nearly align our minimum wage with the state’s livable wage as defined in statute*. $15 in 2024 is projected to be worth approximately $13 in 2018 dollars, and the state’s livable wage for 2018 was $13.34 per hour. Raising the minimum wage to $15 in 2024 would help to meet this standard in all but a handful of regions in the state, where the average cost of living is higher — which is why we advocate for a strong social safety net for all workers.

No worker should be exempt from earning the minimum wage. Farm workers, domestic workers, tipped workers, workers with disabilities, high school students, and others should not be exempt from the minimum wage. We must address the unjust and inequitable aspects of our nation’s original minimum wage policies, which carved certain kinds of occupations out because of the dominant racial, gender, and other biases of our nation’s policy makers and citizens.

The minimum wage is a racial and gender justice issue. Raising the minimum wage to a livable wage will help to address the wage and wealth gap for workers of color and women, because people of color and women are too often overrepresented in low-wage employment. Bridging this racial and gender wealth gap will help to reduce the economic inequality that is holding back our entire economy.

The State of Vermont should pay all of its workers a livable wage without sacrificing the quality of or access to social services. Whether its own or contracted employees, the State should pay a livable wage and make appropriations to fully fund the cost of labor for our social service programs.

Working people deserve both a livable wage as well as the paid time off that they need to care for themselves and their loved ones. Vermont should implement both a minimum wage increase and a paid family and medical leave insurance program. These are complementary policies — increasing our income tax base through raising wages will ensure the stability of this program — and neither of these policies should be used as a bargaining tool against the other.

* The state’s livable wage is based on a basic needs budget that allows full-time employed workers to pay half of living expenses when sharing a one-bedroom apartment with another full-time employed worker, as long as they also have employer-provided health insurance.