Hearing Summary: $15 Minimum Wage

CPS Joins Allies in Support of $15 Minimum Wage Bills

On Tuesday, Sept. 19, in the Massachusetts State House, the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development heard testimony on bills related to raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2021. The proposal is to raise the bill gradually to $15 an hour by 2021, and adjust the wage according to economic growth for years thereafter (so as to not have to pass further minimum wage increases every few years in response to inflation).

CPS supports this legislation because family income is one of the strongest predictors for student success, and raising the minimum wage has been shown to help close the achievement gap.

In more than six hours of hearings, dozens of people from various organizations, from fast food workers to research economists, labor union members to special education teachers, made powerful, moving and at times heart-wrenching testimonies about the need to raise the minimum wage to $15.

The wage increase would affect almost one million Massachusetts residents, according to Anabel Santiago, Organizer with Raise Up Massachusetts. Stephanie Houten, who grew up in Massachusetts’ public schools, spoke about how because her single mother could not fully support them on minimum wage jobs, Stephanie had to start working at fifteen. She graduated from her public college at 25, taking longer than four years because her work prevented her from being a full-time student. Despite all her work, she still graduated with $40,000 in debt.

Barbara Fischer, who works at Dunkin’ Donuts in Boston, said she was unable to graduate high school because she had to take care of her dad who had cancer. At eighteen, both of her parents had already passed away, and without a high school degree, her only option for supporting herself was getting a minimum wage job in fast food. After six years, she has not received a wage increase other than the increase in minimum wage to $11 in 2014. She struggles to support her two kids on that wage today.

Testimonies like these make clear the link between public school education and minimum wage. Parents making the minimum wage can hardly support their children. That’s why Stephanie had to start working so early, and throughout college, unable to prioritize her education. That’s also why Barbara has to work long days at Dunkin’ Donuts when she could be at home, supporting her two kids in school.

A panel of economists tried to argue that a minimum wage increase would be bad for the economy, but their arguments were debunked by Jeanette Wicks-Lim, Economics Professor at UMass-Amherst, David Cooper, researcher at the Economic Policy Institute in DC, and Randy Albeida, Economics Professor at UMass-Boston. They argued that gradual minimum wage increases as outlined in this bill help alleviate poverty and have no significant negative impact on the economy. They argued the low minimum wage makes the high expense of public support services in Massachusetts, such as childcare and medical care, even more inaccessible.

As John Blanco of Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) pointed out, single mothers are most impacted by these high costs. These mothers have to balance working long hours to support their children while taking care of their children when they become sick or have medical emergencies, and running everyday errands such as grocery shopping and paying bills. Having parents who are making a livable wage means children will be better supported, especially in their schooling.

Among the dozens of other strong testimonies, Barbara Madeloni spoke about how teachers see the severe impact on low-income children everyday in the classroom. Aidan Orly, the new organizer with Citizens for Public Schools, reiterated that income is the greatest predictor for student success in school. Raising the minimum wage in Massachusetts, which is ranked at the top in income inequality and achievement gaps in the country, is the single most important step for closing the achievement gap and ensuring the success of all our students.

Get involved in the campaign to Raise Up Massachusetts. Click here to find out what you can do to put a $15 minimum wage on the ballot, and more.

Written by Aidan Orly, Community Organizer for Citizens for Public Schools