Sunday, August 20, 2006

Minimum Wage Leadership in Vermont

Why can't we be more like Vermont? That's pretty much the gist of what scores of U.S. Senators and Congressmembers across the nation have been saying the last couple of weeks, particularly when it comes to the minimum wage.

Last year, Vermont was one of the proud states to raise our minimum wage to $7.25, and then add in a cost-of-living increase automatically in future years.

The federal minimum wage is just $5.15 an hour. I don't care where you live, but that's not enough to make a living. In fact, Vermont's own Livable Wage Campaign ( estimates that a full-time worker needs to earn between $10 and $13 an hour (and that's if you have no kids).

The federal minimum wage was last increased to $5.15 an hour eight years ago. Eight years ago, gas cost $1.25 a gallon. Prices change. So should wages. The $5.15 wage is the lowest in more than 50 years, after factoring in inflation.

So earlier this month, the U.S. Congress considered raising the minimum wage to $7.25. Good idea? Well, kind of. See, the Republicans threw in a kicker -- they added an amendment that would have given $800 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest 8,100 Americans. So while the poorest workers would get $2/hour more for working, the richest Americans would get an average of about $1,000,000 each for being rich. One Senator noted that had the bill passed, Paris Hilton and her family would have received $250 million. Hmph.

Here in Vermont, some of my Republican colleagues argued that the government gives hand-outs to those earning very little, so why bother giving them raises? That's the wrong approach, in my opinion. People working full-time should be able to support themselves, without government assistance.

I was proud to play a role behind the scenes to raise the minimum wage here in Vermont, helping keep Vermont one of the leaders when it comes to minimum wages. It's not just our maple syrup, ski slopes, cheese, rolling hills, and environmental excellence. Add minimum wage leadership to the long list of things that make Vermont the envy of the rest of the USA.