COMMENTARY: Minimum wage is not enough


In response to the article regarding a possible minimum wage raise, I would like to suggest that readers go to the Vermont Livable Wage Campaign's website and go to the ‘Get Informed' page. As a division of the Vermont Peace and Justice Center, they have been promoting basic needs and rights of Vermonters since 1986.

I understand raising minimum wage to $12.50/hour is a concern for small businesses. Having worked at several smaller retailers, it is tough to make profit when you are spending any income on payroll. However, minimum wage is exactly that -- not enough. A livable wage is defined as, "the hourly wage or annual income sufficient to meet a family's basic needs, plus all applicable Federal and State taxes. Basic needs include food, housing, child care, transportation, health care, clothing, household and personal expenses, insurance, and 5 percent savings."

I would like to know where the data Erenhouse suggested comes from that says that most workers receiving minimum wage are fringe or part-time workers. They are probably part time because they can't find one full time job with enough hours.

I'd also like to know how common it really is in Vermont for one spouse to have a higher paying job, and the other to have a minimum wage job to earn extra money for the family. What about single parents? Recent college graduates with student loan debt? "Retirees" who have to seek other employment post retirement to pay their bills? Being someone with a bachelor's degree (and debating a master's versus staying debt free and underpaid) -- I'm always job hunting. Part of it is the nature of my field of recreation management.

I made more working with the stagnating GS pay scale system for the US Forest Service than I can anywhere seasonally in Vermont. But then come the end of my season, I'm on the job hunt again. Most of my income in winter goes toward rent. When you rent as a single person without a livable wage, it is tough to make ends meet.

According to the Vermont Department of Employment and Training, "45 percent of jobs in Vermont have a median wage that pays less than $11.58/hr ($24,086/yr. ), the livable wage for a single person in 2003." This figure doesn't include tipped employees. That number to me is alarming. Additionally, almost 1/3rd of all families in Vermont with children under 18 that are headed by single women are in poverty (Vermont Job Gap Study -- Phase 8).

How many of those women are stuck with minimum wage? Wouldn't it make more sense to provide a livable wage and invest in the community, rather than subsidize (if they are lucky) them with assistance programs? There are people with families in this community who work for various organizations (home health comes to mind) making barely above Vermont minimum wage without getting 40 hours per week. There are people who work part-time making above minimum wage, just to supplement their normal jobs.

Some of those people have worked their part time/filler job for years, without any pay raise. There are jobs that offer above minimum wage, but decrease the work hours to under 40 hours per week. It doesn't add up.

It is unfortunate that these struggling families or individuals have come to rely on assistance programs from the state and federal Ggovernment to make up for a lack of a livable wage (But someone in Montpelier needs a job too, right?). I'm going to go with Bernie (Sanders) on this one. Support a Livable Wage in Vermont.

Silvia Cassano is a resident of Bennington.


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