Letter: A moral economy needs a livable wage

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Editor of the Reformer,

Everyone wants a healthy economy, but who should a healthy economy serve?

Showing up to work full-time ought to guarantee Vermonters an adequate standard of living. Vermont's current minimum wage of $10.78/hour is not sufficient. It fails to support workers, their families and our economy at large. Vermont needs a livable wage that affirms the dignity of all of its workers and their families. Vermont needs a moral economy.

The Vermont Joint Fiscal Office estimates that a current livable wage is in excess of $13/hour, over $2 per hour above the current minimum wage. S.23 is a bill in the Statehouse that proposes a modest incremental increase of the state minimum wage to $15/hour by 2024 (which after inflation would be the equivalent of $13.26/hour today). This increase, paired with an increase in Vermont's Earned Income Tax Credit, would be a modest move to support the well being of working families as well as our economy as a whole.

As a pastor in Southern Vermont, I see the effects of inadequate wages every day. I have weekly contact with families struggling to make ends meet for their families while filling full-time jobs that are essential to our towns. People of faith across religious and political spectrums are increasingly supporting a moral economy that honors the dignity of all people and our local communities by affirming that fair work deserves a fair wage. Everyone wins when we support an economy that serves the basic needs, including food, shelter, clothing, transportation, physical safety and the basic health and preventative care of everyone.

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So often, Vermonters from diverse political perspectives express support for the idea of a livable wage, but express concern about the state being able to afford it. This is based on the false assumption that raising the minimum wage is bad for the economy as a whole and a threat to small businesses. Raising the minimum wage supports the state economy. In 2014, the state that most often topped the list of small business job growth was Washington State, the state with one of the nation's highest minimum wages. A higher minimum wage does not impede the growth of the small business sector. When workers earn a livable minimum wage, rates of turnover decrease because workers stay healthier and and happier with their jobs, reducing the employer's cost of training and recruiting new employees. Furthermore, an increase in the minimum wage promotes local spending at local businesses. This is especially true in rural areas. Finally, raising the minimum wage and Earned Income Tax Credit would significantly reduce the amount of working families' dependence on state assistance.

If you are a person who supports a moral economy that works for all Vermonters, please take a few minutes to voice your support to your representatives right away as S.23 is currently being debated in the General Assembly. To quickly find and contact your legislators, visit: https://legislature.vermont.gov/people/.

Jeremy Kirk

Settled Pastor and Teacher

West Dover Congregational Church, United Church of Christ

May 12


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