Saturday, August 23, 2008

Something to celebrate on Labor Day

Guest Perspective by State Rep. Marjorie Smith

On Sept. 1, the minimum wage in New Hampshire rises to $7.25 an hour. It is fitting that this increase from $6.50 goes into effect on Labor Day. Approximately 17,500 workers will see an increase in their hourly pay and that is good news for everyone as we struggle toward the goal of financial security for all New Hampshire citizens. As prime sponsor of the bill to increase the minimum wage, I am proud that the New Hampshire legislature passed and the governor signed into law the bill making this increase possible. But we still have a long way to go.
The New Hampshire Women’s Policy Institute (NHWPI) initiated a study by UNH economist Ross Gittell. Gittell reported that of those working at or near the minimum wage in 1999 (from $5.15 TO $6.65) “most were adults with a high school education or better. Of those working full-time, 60 percent were women, 40 percent had children, and nearly one third were older than 45. These figures are based on the most recent large survey available. Subsequent surveys based on smaller samples indicate little change. Roughly 2 percent of full-time working men and 4 percent of full-time working women made minimum wage in 2005. New Hampshire ranks near the bottom nationally in terms of women’s earnings relative to men’s.
An increase in the minimum wage is an essential step, but it is only a step. In 2005 women made up 40 percent of the full-time workforce but 57 percent of full-time workers earning less than $25,000. Working 2,000 hours a year at $7.25 per hour equals a gross income of $14,500. The question is: Can a family live on that income?
Based on the U.S. Census 2005 American Community Survey and findings in a recent study, “New Hampshire’s Basic Needs and Livable Wage, 2006” published by the UNH Office of Economic Initiatives and North Country Council Inc., the NHWPI analyzed what a livable wage, as compared with a minimum wage, would be in New Hampshire. A livable wage is the annual amount needed to cover a family’s basic needs, including rent, food, clothing, medical care and child care if necessary, with other household expenses.
A living wage for a single person is estimated to be $21,683 while a single parent with two children is estimated to need $40,589. Because men dominate high-wage jobs, male single parents with two children with earnings below the livable wage comprise 39 percent of that group, while female single parents with two children with earnings below the livable wage comprise 63pe rcent.
Another way to look at this is that of New Hampshire full-time workers earning enough to support a single-parent family 72 percent are men and 28 percent are women. What we see here is income disparity and gender disparity.
What can we conclude? There is reason to celebrate an increase in the minimum wage, but more must be done. We must find a way to help women and men develop skills and make use of essential supports so as to become financially independent. And we cannot expect businesses to bear this responsibility without state support.
Under Democratic leadership, the New Hampshire legislature took significant steps to help businesses and their employees by re-establishing a job training fund for businesses, establishing a research and development credit against business profits and business enterprise taxes, created economic revitalization zone tax credits, and authorized the commissioner of the Department of Employment Security to adjust the discount rate for unemployment insurance tax.
We made part-time employees eligible for unemployment benefits, helped to encourage the development of work-force housing, and created adjustments to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs to provide the Department of Health and Human Services more flexibility when meeting the federal work participation requirements.
Combined with the minimum wage increase, we have much to be proud of. We can take pleasure in our accomplishments while acknowledging how much more we have to travel.

State Rep. Marjorie Smith is Chairwoman of the House Finance Committee. She is a Democrat and represents Durham.

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