January 4, 2007

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Time for a raise
By†Jody Reese

Labor Commissioner George Copadis wrote recently in the Manchester Daily Express that after 10 years at $5.15 the minimum wage needs to be increased.

Copadis cites numerous studies and data that support an increase in the minimum wage as a real economic growth tool. Not only is the raise needed for thousands of workers across the state, it makes workers more productive and actually helps to lower the unemployment rate.

For me itís a question of fairness. In a state where it takes $11 an hour to afford a basic apartment, $5.15 is so low a wage that it seems stingy, even for us Yankees.

Free staters and some business owners might argue that the market should determine wages, not the government. While I sympathize with anyone who wants the government out of their business, the market does not have some magic qualities and is not the be-all and end-all. Markets do not factor in fairness nor are they necessarily efficient. For proof just look at any stock market bubble or human nature, for that matter. Markets are just extensions of our actions, and those actions result from many things, including emotions. There is no moral superiority to the markets either.

Because labor is not a commodity that can be traded, swapped or bartered, itís not appropriate for it to be at the complete mercy of the market (not that that should be the only criteria). We in this country decided after the Great Depression that a minimum wage was needed. You only need to read John Steinbeckís Grapes of Wrath to understand why.

In addition to that, 86 percent of Americans agree that the minimum wage needs to be increased ó not even that many believe we landed a man on the moon in 1969.

Other people argue that so few folks still earn the minimum wage that changing it will have no meaningful effect on the economy, and in the end it will only hurt small businesses, such as restaurants that already have a very low margin.

While this is true, the great majority of restaurants and bars are corporate-owned and have the means and profit margins to afford a slight increase in labor costs. More than that, service sector jobs, such as wait staff, are a basic source of employment for those with little or no higher education. These are the folks on the margin of our economy; the ones who have a hard time making the rent every month. Many times, they do not have the education or experience to get other work. For them and their children, a raise in the minimum wage would make the most difference and for the better.

Copadis is right. Raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do.