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Minimum Wage Fails in Concord

Concord — New Hampshire’s minimum wage will remain at $7.25 an hour after all 13 Republican senators voted yesterday against a bill to raise it in increments.

“We know that this is a job killer. Let’s kill this bill and preserve jobs in New Hampshire,” Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, told his colleagues.

New Hampshire relies on the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which is lower than the minimum wage in the rest of New England. This bill would have re-established a state minimum wage at $8.25 in 2015, then $9 in 2016. After that, the wage would increase yearly based on inflation.

The Democratic-led House passed the bill earlier this session, and House Speaker Terie Norelli, a Portsmouth Democrat, strongly condemned the Senate’s vote.

“The disrespect and lack of understanding projected by a number of Senators during the discussion of the bill makes clear that they are dangerously out of touch with the hardworking people they represent,” Norelli said.

On a state and national level, Democrats are hoping to make raising the minimum wage a major election-year issue.

During yesterday’s debate, all 11 Democrats stood up to speak in favor of raising the minimum wage, while just four Republicans spoke. Democrats said raising the wage would give hardworking people a much-needed economic boost and boost the state’s economy, while Republicans said raising the wage would eliminate entry-level jobs.

Someone working full-time for minimum wage makes $15,800 a year, which has a purchasing power 30 percent lower than what a minimum wage worker made in the 1960s, Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Democrat, said.

Raising the minimum wage is one step toward closing a growing gap in income inequality, he said. Working for minimum wage makes it nearly impossible for people to buy food, find affordable housing and support families, he and other Democrats said.

“It should be understood that this legislation isn’t meant to address the kind of inequalities between the ultra-wealthy and the poor. It’s meant to nudge the unlivable wage earners across an important threshold,” D’Allesandro said.

But Republican senators pointed to a recent report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that said while raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would increase wages for millions of people, it could cost 500,000 jobs. When the federal minimum wage went up to $7.25 in 2009, 330,000 teenage jobs were lost, Bradley said. Bradley said he believed the legislation was “well-intentioned,” but that it would do more harm than good. Fellow Republicans agreed.

“Increasing the minimum wage reduces demand for entry-level workers,” Sen. Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, said. “It’s a hidden tax on employment, and it’s paid by people trying hard to get their first jobs.”

Democrats disputed the characterization that most people making minimum wage are teenagers or entry-level workers. Data shows that 50 percent of people earning the minimum wage are under the age of 25, but almost 40 percent are over the age of 30 and 14 percent are parents. They also pointed to a 2009 study from the Economic Policy Institute that showed the impact on teen employment from raising the minimum wage is negligible.

Sen. Peggy Gilmour, D-Hollis, said that Washington state began tying its minimum wage to the cost of living in 1998 and has not seen the massive job losses that opponents of raising the minimum wage predict.

Although arguments driven by statistics ruled most of the debate, Sen. Molly Kelly, D-Keene, said it was clear either side could choose data points that played to their position. Instead of looking at numbers, she said, her colleagues needed to think about the people who make minimum wage.

“If a job is not (for) a livable wage, then I would argue it is not a job,” she said.

In a statement after the vote, Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, said she was disappointed in the Senate’s vote.

“I will continue fighting to restore and improve our state minimum wage in order to boost our economy and strengthen the economic security of thousands of Granite Staters,” she said.