The push for an $11 minimum wage

Will a boost in the minimum wage help the economy or hurt it?

Hundreds of union workers and advocacy groups packed the State House’s Gardner Auditorium on Tuesday to push for a steep hike in the state’s minimum wage, arguing that a boost would give a lift to the local economy and create more jobs.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development held a hearing to discuss a bill introduced by Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton and Rep. Antonio Cabral of New Bedford to raise the minimum wage from $8—a number unchanged since 2008—to $9 sixty days after passage, to $10 in July 2014, and to $11 in July 2015. After 2015, the bill would index the minimum wage to inflation.

The bill also requires employers to pay workers who also receive tips 70 percent of the minimum wage, rather than the current 33 percent, or $2.63 per hour, a rate static since 1999 and also the lowest in New England.

“It’s time equality trickles down to those earning the least in our society,” said Steven Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and a former state senator, at a press conference prior to the hearing.

The current minimum wage in Massachusetts exceeds the federal minimum wage of $7.25, with only two New England states maintaining higher rates—Connecticut at $8.25 and Vermont at $8.60. Today, minimum wage workers in Massachusetts make about $16,640 a year working full-time. The proposed bill would bump that amount to $22,800, which is just below the federal poverty level for a family of four.

Pacheco told the committee, headed by Sen. Daniel Wolf of Harwich and Rep. Thomas Conroy of Wayland, that a single parent with a preschooler and a school-aged child needs almost four times the income that the minimum wage provides to live in Massachusetts.

US Women’s Chamber of Commerce CEO Margot Dorfman submitted a written statement that emphasized how a wage hike will help the local economy. “Consumer spending drives 70 percent of our economy, and we must repower consumer spending—backed by adequate wages rather than unaffordable debt—if we are going to repower our economy, create jobs, and reverse the decline in our middle class,” she said.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts—a group that represents 3,500 small businesses—disagrees about job creation. “Many Bay State small employers simply cannot afford this increase, and neither can our economy if indeed we are collectively serious in stating that our priority in the Commonwealth is to grow jobs,” Hurst said in written testimony.

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Joanne Goldstein, secretary of the Executive Office of Labor and Development and a Gov. Patrick-appointee, testified in favor of a minimum wage increase without pinpointing an exact rate. Senate President Therese Murray also spoke in favor of reform at the hearing, saying that taxpayer dollars currently go to subsidize workers who rely on subsidized housing, health care, daycare, food benefits, after school and before school programs, transportation, and fuel assistance.

 “By identifying what a living wage is here, and by providing our residents with an opportunity to earn a living wage, we’ll support our growing economy and take a big step forward in helping our residents lead successful and self-sustaining lives in the Commonwealth,” said Murray.