It is important to pass the $15 per hour minimum wage bill without delay, even when it hurts a bit.
The national minimum wage’s peak buying power was at $1.60/hour in 1968. Over the last 50 years, inflation has continually eroded that buying power downward, even with adjustments, from that peak.
This deflation of the minimum wage has long been a windfall for the profitability of small and large business, at the expense of the diminishing quality of life of our lowest wage earners and those closely associated.
Now, we are close to correcting that travesty for about 70,000 hard-working Vermonters.
These same businesses, their advocates from Gov. Scott to their many paid lobbyists, complain that correcting the minimum wage (not addressing the years of lost compensation) now places all businesses, large and small, in jeopardy.
We have many, many voices saying we cannot do this. The Chamber of Commerce, most Republican lawmakers, many industry lobbying groups and others want to exploit the status quo of low wage workers. In addition, they want to continue to exploit the Vermont taxpayers who subsidized these minimum wage earners with welfare programs to help keep food on the table, clothes on the kids’ backs and fire in the hearth.
Who is speaking up for the 70,000 low-wage Vermonters? Who walks the halls of power for them?
It is up to all Vermonters to speak up, correct this injustice. It is up to the Democratic legislators to stand up and protect these 70,000 hard-working Vermonters — now.
Let’s not let the confusion of wage compression, which is solely the symptom of this decades-old minimum wage travesty, fog the minds of those who see clearly the core problem is correcting the minimum wage to $15 per hour. We cannot fix all things.
We pride ourselves living in a free capitalist society. Setting the minimum wage now will let the owners/managers of these businesses use their discretion to correct their wage compression problems over a very generous five years. They have enjoyed the profitable benefits of wage compression for decades. We should feel no compulsion to subsidize the beneficiaries (business small and large) of the distasteful and exploitative wage compression as part of this very late and very necessary adjustment to the minimum wage. Focus on the core issue.
Do you support the businesses — private and public — who have exploited these Vermonters, or will you lend your support to get 70,000 Vermonters a modest wage increase that has long been overdue?
It is important to do the right thing, even when it hurts a bit.
Bob Zeliff lives in Bridport.