In my career as a school nurse, public health nurse and consulting nurse to the Head Start program, I had daily contact with some of the 60,000 people living below the federal poverty level in Vermont. I‘ve seen how much energy it takes struggling parents to provide the most basic of care for their families and how they are docked pay when their children are sick. In the past two decades, more working families began to access services like food shelves, food stamps and fuel assistance. In a country as prosperous as ours, it’s an outrage that someone working full-time is kept in poverty by the system. I’m writing in favor of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Donald Trump, in an Aug. 20, 2015, interview with MSNBC’s Morning Joe show, stated: “It’s the United States against other places where, Joe (Scarborough), where the taxes are lower, where the wages are lower, where lots of things are lower. Now, I want to create jobs so you don’t have to worry about the minimum wage, you’re doing a great job making much more than the minimum wage. But I think having a low minimum wage is not a bad thing for this country.” Our president suggests that competing with other countries for the lowest minimum wage is a good thing — a race to the bottom. I believe that thinking is erroneous. Raising the minimum wage to $15 would directly benefit tens of thousands of low-wage Vermont workers, boost the local economy and improve the health of our families and communities. Contrary to what many believe, raising the minimum wage affects more adults, including many who support families, than it does high school students earning weekend pocket-money; 88 percent are 20 or older, 56 percent are women, 45 percent are over age 40, 62 percent work full-time and 22 percent have children. The Vermont Legislature has increased the minimum wage, but it hasn’t increased enough to change the rising income inequality. In Vermont, the share of total income continues to go to the top 1 percent as the rate of childhood poverty and homelessness also increases. Child care and health insurance, food, transportation and fuel costs continue to rise and wages have not kept up with the cost of living. If the minimum wage is raised too slowly, it will never catch up to the cost of living. Wages for workers in Vermont and the country as a whole have decreased over the past decades as the incomes of the wealthiest have increased. This is a deliberate change and present politics reinforce this inequity on the national level. A 2015 study found that the decrease in the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage since the 1980s has been a contributor to America’s high levels of inequality. Numerous studies have shown that raising the minimum wage doesn’t hurt job growth, and differences in minimum wages in neighboring states don’t cause businesses to move significantly. As long as there are people to buy the goods, businesses will stay. With more money in their pockets, people will spend more. An increase in the minimum wage is associated with an increased level of productivity according to many economists, including Janet Yellen, former chair of the Federal Reserve. Alan Manning, professor of economics at the London School of Economics, stated in 2014: “As the minimum wage rises and work becomes more attractive, labor turnover rates and absenteeism tend to decline.” A basic tenet of economic justice is a fair wage for fair work. A fair wage would have a provision for an adequate standard of living for a worker and dependents, including food, clothing, shelter, physical safety and health care. Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour is the right thing to do. Leslie Walz is a Barre resident.

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