Massachusetts Moves Ahead on Minimum Wage Increase; Social Dems Call for Full Employment and Living Wages

The Massachusetts legislature moved closer to increasing the state minimum wage when the Joint committee On Labor and Workforce Development held a public hearing on June 11th at the State House in Boston. Speaking to an audience of more than 300 union members and progressives, both the Governor’s representative and Senate President Terese Murray urged the Committee to approve bills which would move the minimum wage from the curent $8 per hour to $11 over 3 year increments and index it for inflation thereafter.

Massachusetts Social Democrats presented testimony on two topics which ran like hidden currents throughout the
hearing.

First, said the Social Democrats, the proposed increases would still not produce a living wage for low-income workers. Even the increases would leave such workers in poverty and dependent on public assistance. Using the estimates of the respected Crittenton Women’s Union, they pointed out that a single worker in Massachusetts requires an income of $28,500 per year and that a family consisting of a single parent, a preschooler and a school-age child requires $65,880 per year. Even $11 per hour for a 2,000 hour year would not provide these basic amounts.

Further, the Social Democrats pointed out, the low income worker cannot count on a full work year. He or she frequently faces periods of unemployment and confronts a catastrophic labor market which is yet to recover from a five year slump. Quoting the estimates of the National Jobs for All Coalition, MSD observed that the real number of unemployed workers was probably over 16%, including those who are involuntarily employed part-time and those who have given up the job search in despair. Among African-American teenagers, they noted, the unemployment rate is an unconscionable 44%.

It is worth noting that the minimum wage bills were not the proposals of only “the usual suspects:” progressive legislators, organizations and unions. Perhaps even the mainstream of the Massachusetts Democratic Party is beginning to be uneasy about the persistence of poverty in the country and to recognize that we need full employment at living wages. Such a policy was once a commonplace demand on the left of the political spectrum and Massachusetts Social Democrats are determined to put that demand back on the progressive agenda.

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