September 2017 Amherst Bulletin Column: Reasoning for raising the minimum wage

September 2017 Column: Reasoning for raising the minimum wage

            On Sunday, I participated in the kickoff of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition’s signature-gathering campaign to put paid family and medical leave and $15 minimum wage questions on the ballot for voters to approve in 2018.

            These would tie in with the “Fair Share Amendment” (or so-called “Millionaire’s Tax”) which is already guaranteed to be on the ballot. The timing of this kickoff was excellent, because on Tuesday I stood with the lead sponsors of the $15 minimum wage bill as they testified for it in a public hearing at the Statehouse.

            There is a need for a living wage in Massachusetts. The $15 minimum wage proposal is an inherently capitalist and pro private enterprise policy. Speaking as a capitalist, I strongly support a living minimum wage because it essentially says that we will guarantee every person in our state the right to work full-time and be able to live decently and support a family — and that the free market can achieve that in the way that is most efficient and productive in terms of distributing jobs and hiring workers.

            If you also believe in capitalism as a driver of productivity and a creator of wealth in the world, then you have to believe there is a way to do so while ensuring full-time workers are able to make a real living. If you think that a living minimum wage would be impossibly burdensome to businesses, you’re basically saying that capitalism could never work. I believe it can, so I support a living minimum wage.

            A full-time worker earning the current Massachusetts minimum wage of $11 per hour makes only about $20,000 a year. This is barely enough to meet the barest necessities in Hampshire County, and certainly isn’t sufficient to live in Boston or other parts of the state. If we raise the minimum wage to $15, we still fall short of a truly decent living for Boston residents, but we will guarantee thousands of workers a significant raise. That will alleviate, at least in western Massachusetts, the anxiety so many families feel every day that they will not be able to afford basic necessities: housing, food, heating or transportation.

            Every member of our community deserves the chance to not only survive, but to pursue their passions for service, social connection, and engagement in the community. A living wage should cover at least the slightest bit more than what is needed to rent a home, pay for health care and food, and cover child care if all parents in a home are working. Every person deserves a wage that affords breathing room and that makes it possible to spend time with children or volunteer for an important cause rather than needing to work two or three full-time jobs simply to make ends meet.

            For all these reasons, it is clear that we need an increase in the minimum wage in Massachusetts. But I am especially excited about some of the specifics of this bill and ballot initiative. It brings (over time) the minimum wage for tipped workers to the same level as all other workers, which will eliminate some huge inequities in our state’s workforce.

            The piece that I suggest is the most essential, though, is that this bill and ballot initiative would tie the minimum wage to inflation, which has not been the case in Massachusetts. As costs of living naturally go up over time, and as $1 is worth less over time, the minimum wage would increase proportionally. This is crucial — the current minimum wage in our state, adjusted for inflation, is in fact less than it was in the 1960s. The fact that this proposal ties the minimum wage to inflation means that workers for decades to come will be able to make a decent living from a full-time job, without having to fight each year for one more incremental step toward a fair wage.

            If you are interested in getting involved with the campaign for a living wage, or the other initiatives I mentioned, e-mail me at (my website is or contact the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition at

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Photo and book images by Violet Kitchen, Picturing Policy posts by Violet Kitchen and Kaley Davis.