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Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed the state's new minimum wage law into effect this week at Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex with great fanfare and ballyhooing.
Vermont's minimum wage will rise from its current $8.73 an hour to $10.50 per hour and this might be significant if it were going to happen this year versus in four years.
The Legislature twisted itself up in knots over this bill, in particular over how it should be timed. The net result is that the minimum wage will rise $1.77 over four years. That 44-cent-per-hour increase per year (assuming the increase is split over four years) will amount to $17.70 per week or $70.80 per month for minimum wage workers.
Sure, it's better to increase the minimum wage than to leave it where it is or to adhere to the federal minimum wage of $7.25, but surely we could have increased a little more or sooner because a lot can change in four years in terms of cost of living.
In 2010 a gallon of gas in Vermont cost $2.88. This week a gallon of gas in Vermont averaged $3.71. In 2010 a gallon of propane in Vermont averaged $2.61 and in March of 2014 a gallon of propane cost $4.35.
Keep in mind that today's minimum wage earners make $16,761 per year. A minimum wage earner in 2018 will make $20,160 per year. Does anyone seriously expect that the graduated increase of 44 cents in the minimum wage will even keep pace with the increased costs of the things Vermonters need to live – gas to get to work or propane to heat their homes?
Here's another way to look at it. The Vermont Legislative Fiscal Office, in a January 2013 report, notes that the 2012 livable wage was $12.48 per hour. The report defines a livable wage as the hourly wage required for a full-time worker to pay for one-half of the basic needs budget for a two-person household, with no children and employer-assisted health insurance, averaged for both urban and rural areas. If the livable wage was $12.48 in 2012, it's not likely that 2018's $10.50 minimum wage will improve things much.
We can pat ourselves on our backs and congratulate each other with self-satisfied bonhomie because "we're doing something about it." But we're not really doing much at all.