Minimum wage hike? Local officials mixed


BENNINGTON -- Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke out on Tuesday in favor of raising the federal minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour.

"States and communities are not waiting for Congress to raise the minimum wage. They are doing the right thing because the simple truth is that working people cannot survive on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or $8 an hour, or $9 an hour. If people work 40 hours a week, they deserve not to live in dire poverty," said Sanders in a press release from his office.

This comes as Vermont's minimum wage increased by $.13 on Jan. 1, to $8.73 an hour, and a bill in the Vermont legislature is proposing increasing the minimum wage to $12.50 per hour. According to Sanders' press release, the real value of the federal minimum wage has decreased 30% since 1968. Had it been adjusted for inflation during that time, it would be more than $10.70 today.

‘Fringe workers or part time'

Joann Erenhouse, executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, argued that, "Most people who are getting minimum wage are fringe workers, or part-time." She went on to say that most who are getting minimum wage are not supporting a family on that income. She said it was much more common for one spouse to be working a full-time, above minimum wage job, and the other to take on a minimum wage job to make a little extra money for the family.

The United States Chamber of Commerce has also come out against a federal minimum wage increase, saying in a written statement on their website, "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce continues to believe that increases in the minimum wage fall disproportionately on small businesses who are the least able to absorb such a dramatic increase in their labor costs. Accordingly, the U.S. Chamber continues to oppose increases in the minimum wage and believes that any increase must be coupled with provisions that recognize the impact this will have on small business."

Michael Harrington, Bennington's economic and community development director, said of Sanders' remarks, "I think the intent is good, but the part that really needs to be considered is the impact on employers." Harrington said he knew of many local small businesses that are "doing the best they can," and a wage increase of several dollars an hour could very well put them out of business. "We have to be thinking with both entities in mind," said Harrington, who hopes the legislature can help workers make a livable wage, while also decreasing the economic pressures on small businesses.

According to Sanders' press release, nearly half of the children of Wal-Mart associates receive Medicaid benefits or are uninsured. In several states, Wal-Mart has the highest percentage of employees receiving food stamps. "American taxpayers should not have to subsidize the low wages at Wal-Mart to make the store's owners, already the richest family in America, even richer," Sanders said. He argues that by increasing the federal minimum wage, fewer workers would qualify for food stamps and Medicaid, reducing the federal deficit.

According to a ABC/Washington post poll quoted in Sanders' press release, over two-thirds of Americans support an increase in federal minimum wage. According to a CBS News poll, 64 percent of independents and 57 percent of Republicans support an increase.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB


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