Conversations continue on Mass. minimum wage
Tsemone Ogbemi ‘21
The minimum wage in Massachusetts has been $11 per hour since January. According to the Boston Globe, the $11 wage was the highest in the country when it was proposed in 2014.
However, state lawmakers are feeling pressure to increase the wage to $15 by 2021, in response to inflation and the state’s relatively high cost of living.
A group of about 90 economics professors from Massachusetts, including some from Smith and the Five Colleges, signed a letter to legislators endorsing the $15 plan. Among the Smith faculty that signed this letter was the current chair of the Economics department, Andrew Zimbalist and the previous chair, Charles P. Staelin.
According to the website of Raise Up, an organization providing the collective heat to state lawmakers, “Today, a full-time worker in Massachusetts earning the current minimum wage of $11 an hour makes only $22,880 a year. A minimum wage earner would have to work 94 hours every week in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment.”
Part of Raise Up’s strategy includes collecting signatures to get a question on the November ballot. Raise Up, however, is not the only group taking action.
The letter from Smith professors says, “Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021 would be an effective means of improving overall living standards for low-wage workers and their families and is likely to contribute to a general improvement in economic conditions.”
Randy Bartlett, professor of Economics at Smith, told The Sophian that, “At least with a phased in [increase], it gives businesses a chance to adapt. In some cases, businesses will have to raise their prices to cover it, and again customers are a little shocked if the happy meal they bought last week cost six dollars and the happy meal this week costs nine dollars.”
Bartlett added that, “The evidence is that relatively small increases do not lead to very large decreases in employment, that the elasticity is pretty low.”
The question remains contentious, with organizations steadfast in their positions on both sides.
Those opposed say that raising the minimum wage will force businesses, especially small ones, to either raise the prices of their products, or let people go in order to maintain a certain profit margin.
Those for the measure say the current minimum wage is unfair because low-wage workers simply cannot live on it. Some proponents of the raise claim conversely that a higher minimum wage will have a more positive effect on the state’s economy.
State Senator Cindy Friedman (D) said to the Globe, “Ensuring our workers are able to earn a living wage is good for our economy, good for our businesses, and most importantly, it is the right thing to do for the hard-working residents of the Commonwealth.”
However, objectors such as Chris Carlozzi, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, contends that, “Minimum wage hikes result in fewer hours for low-wage earners and fewer jobs for the very people legislators claim they are attempting to assist.”
Two ways in which businesses accommodate the higher costs necessitated by a price floor such as minimum wage is by, first, requiring fewer hours from their workers or, second, by letting people go, the opposition says.
“There are always examples of cases where, if the wages of low-wage workers become high enough, then automation is an opportunity,” Bartlett said. The results of a hike in the minimum wage vary, especially on a state-level.