BOSTON — Hundreds of people packed a State House auditorium Tuesday to testify on a proposed hike in the state’s minimum wage. There were some opponents, but mostly supporters. It looks like the Legislature will approve a hike, and the governor’s on board, too.
Economists estimate that there are more than a half-million people who earn the minimum wage in Massachusetts. One of them, Melanie Brown, works at a big box store near her Hyde Park home. She’s going to college too, studying criminal justice.
But she’s behind on her student loan payments, she says, and the $8 an hour minimum wage she earns simply isn’t enough to help her dig out of poverty.
“I didn’t even realize minimum wage in Massachusetts was only $8 an hour, which is ridiculous,” Brown said. “You know people complain about people being on welfare and food stamps and Section 8 [housing]. Well, I’m one of those people. And I’ve been struggling my whole life. I grew up in foster care … I didn’t think at 40 I’d still be struggling.”
Brown was one of hundreds who turned out in support of raising the minimum wage, including one bill that would hike it to $11 an hour by 2015, and then allow it to continue to rise with inflation. The last time the state’s minimum wage was raised was in 2008, and the push is getting a boost this year from Senate President Therese Murray.
“You’re seeing people that just aren’t making it here and the cost to you, to taxpayers, is going up and up because we’re subsidizing full-time 40-hour or 60-hour workers with our tax dollars,” Murray told reporters.
A minimum wage hike is getting mixed reviews in the business community. The National Federation of Independent Businesses opposes it outright.
Retailers Association of Massachusetts President Jon Hurst says $11 an hour is too high, and lawmakers should keep the state on par with bordering states. Right now, the minimum wage is higher than $8 only in Vermont and Connecticut, which last week enacted a law which will hike it to $9.
Hurst says a hike in Massachusetts could be made more palatable if lawmakers ended a requirement that retail workers get time-and-a-half pay on Sundays.
“We’re the only industry that has to do that,” Hurst said. “The state itself, localities don’t have to do that, the Red Sox don’t have to. We are hurting employees by denying them raises based on the fact that it’s too expensive to give them raises now for Sundays.”
Gov. Deval Patrick did not appear at the hearing, but in an interview he said he supports a hike.
“There are not a whole lot of people who earn at the level of the minimum wage, but those who do I understand earn about $15,000 a year, which is not enough to sustain a living in this commonwealth,” Patrick said.
He added that he will leave the timing and scale of a wage hike up to the Legislature.
This post was updated with the All Things Considered feature version.