Editor’s note: This commentary is by Bob Zeliff, of Bridport, an apple grower who is a retired engineer.
Gov. Phil Scott always talks about “affordability” which really sounds good, but who does his actions really help with “affordability”? We hear him say that rural Vermonters would be hurt most by increasing the minimum wage because employers would have to lay off workers, or, worse yet, close their business to pay the extra wages for their lowest wage workers. Does that really make sense?
When the price of gas goes up, as it often does, rural gas stations just raise their prices. They do not lay off workers or close! Often it seems they raise their prices more than they need to increase their profits. Why would this be different when the increase cost is wages for the working poor? Is that a myth?
The minimum wage increase is not a big part of a business’ cost. An earlier study found that the $15/hour wage would increase the cost of a Big Mac from $3.99 to $4.17. This modest increase in price of goods sold is a small price for us all to pay for over 40,000 working Vermonters to enjoy a better wage, a better sense of self sufficiency and bit better life.
After raising her prices a bit, a business owner would still be making her normal profit. All Vermont businesses would have a level playing field as these increased wage costs would be the same for all, so their competitive position would not be risked.
We also have the crisis of demographics that Scott decries. A significant component is our young people and families are leaving our rural areas due to economic migration to Chittenden County or to out of state urban areas where wages are higher. Could it be if they could enjoy the benefits of higher wages, some would not be so inclined to leave their rural homes?
It seems to me keeping the minimum wage low clearly does not help over 40,000 hard-working Vermonters. Keeping the wage low worsens the demographic crisis and depopulates rural areas. Fewer people living in rural areas mean fewer customers for rural business, which is the very real long-term risk for our rural small towns and businesses.
Paying a higher minimum wage to working Vermonters would improve their and their children’s lives, increase spending for food, clothing and other essentials in local communities. This spending would largely be local and would help rural small businesses.
It is clear that Scott’s extremely low minimum wage “affordability” does not apply to over 40,000 working Vermonters and does not help most rural businesses in the long term.
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So why does Scott want to keep wages low? It defies logic for me. Our legislators have the opportunity to help better the lives of our working poor, their children and help mitigate the demographic crisis of our shrinking rural communities.