The new year begins on Friday and with it comes new legislatures, new laws and new wages for some individuals. Vermont’s minimum wage is scheduled to increase as part of an incremental process that eventually leads to a $10.50 base wage in the state.
Vermont’s minimum wage will increase from $9.15 to $9.60 per hour on Friday. It’s part of legislation that incrementally leads to a $10.50 minimum wage in 2018. Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility Public Policy Manager Dan Barlow notes after 2018, it will be tied to the cost of living. “For us putting Vermont on a path to bringing the minimum wage above $10 an hour means that 20,000 hard working Vermonters are getting a pay raise. That’s really important especially coming during a time of extreme wage stagnation. We know from state labor statistics that 80 percent of people in Vermont making less than $10 an hour are above the age of 22 and 60 percent are above the age of 30. So these are really the bread winning family members. These are not high school students working an afterschool job.”
Vermont Workers’ Center Communications Coordinator Keith Brunner says while many Vermont families will welcome the raise, it’s still not a livable wage. “It’s clear that it’s nowhere near what’s needed. Across the country we have cities, we have states, who are leading the way towards $15 an hour minimum wage. Talking about what is a liveable wage. And that’s the conversation we need to be having here in Vermont is how do we get towards a liveable wage because a 45 cent increase is not enough.”
While VBSR supports the wage increases, Barlow agrees it’s not enough. “Even bringing it up past $10 an hour as it will be in 2018 is still not enough money to live on and a lot of these Vermonters are also receiving social services. So when Vermonters are working for minimum wage businesses it usually means that we’re subsidizing those jobs in some way with a social service.”
Many of the businesses that will be affected are the smaller retail and mom-and-pop stores. Vermont Grocers and Retail Association President Jim Harrison says any increase puts pressure on a store’s costs, especially employment. “However the reality is today with relatively low unemployment retailers and other employers are doing everything they can to be as attractive as they possibly can to prospective employees. It’s a very competitive market right now. So the impact, the immediate impact, may not be quite so much as it might be in some other years.”
While Vermont advocates want the state’s minimum to rise even higher than the $10.50 by 2018 outlined in the legislation, Harrison points out that the current wage is still higher than surrounding states. “New Hampshire’s minimum wage is 7.25. Maine’s minimum wage is 7.50. New York’s minimum wage this weekend will go up to $9. So Vermont’s already higher than the surrounding states. So making us even further higher only increases costs to the employer and potentially makes some of our products more expensive to the consumers. Retailers want to be competitive. They want to pay their employees well.”
On January 1, 2017 Vermont’s minimum wage will rise to $10 per hour and reaches $10.50 a year later.