By Paige Smith
BU Statehouse Program
This article was also published in the Boston Business Journal.
BOSTON — An effort to gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022 would help to address economic inequality, advocates told a legislative committee Tuesday in a hearing on a proposal now slated for the November ballot.
“Although we have made strides to address inequities, there is still more that we must do. Ensuring that hardworking residents in the Commonwealth receive a fair wage is an essential part of this conversation,” said Trinh Nguyen, director of the city of Boston’s Office of Workforce Development, at the hearing of the Legislature Labor and Workforce Development Committee.
The Bay State last saw a minimum wage increase from $8 to $11 an hour in 2014, a movement spearheaded by Raise Up Massachusetts, sponsors of the ballot question.
Brianna Bryant, a member of the Dorchester Bay Youth Force and a supporter of Raise Up, also testified on behalf of the wage raise. Bryant also said that she supports her son as a teenage worker.
“Being a teenager in the state of Massachusetts and in the city of Boston is extremely hard,” Bryant said. “The youth in Massachusetts have a great amount of potential, but we need opportunities. We need the state of Massachusetts to invest in us.”
But business leaders see the proposal, which would hike the minimum wage by $1 annually – while also raising the hourly minimum cash wage for tipped workers from $3.75 to $9 over the same time period – as a “distraction” in dealing with income inequality.
“The more important long-term issue is that raising the minimum wage, to us, is a fundamental distraction from addressing the real economic issues that are preventing all of Massachusetts citizens from sharing in the state’s prosperity,” said Christopher Geehern of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the largest employer association in Massachusetts. “The minimum wage is just, to us, a dead-end on that, and it distracts us from thinking about how we get those people trained, how we get those people educated, in a way that’s going to allow them the opportunity to improve their lives, support their families.”
Geehern stated that instead of focusing on raising the minimum wage, recent pushes for STEM education in public schools are a more effective approach for creating employment opportunities.
Senate Chairman Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, voiced hope at the end of the hearing that the question could be resolved in the legislative process without being placed on the ballot.