By KRIS PASTORIZA
Governor Chris Sununu just vetoed a minimum wage increase for NH workers, leaving us at the federal level of $7.25 an hour. This is not close to a living wage nor is it a wage that workers only “pass through” on their way to real jobs.
The average age of a minimum wage worker is 35, 88% are 20 or older, 36% are 40 or older, 56% are women, 28% have children, 55% work full time, on average they earn half their family’s total income. (https://www.epi.org/publication/wage-workers-older-88-percent-workers-benefit/)
This veto came only weeks after Governor Sununu re-opened most businesses and required all workers called back to their jobs to go back, regardless of their vulnerability to Covid or if they simply considered their workplaces unsafe. A 75-year-old obese worker with diabetes called back to their job is required to go.
Many of these jobs are in the “industry” with the highest percentage of workers earning hourly wages at or below the federal minimum wage; leisure and hospitality. Dr. Anthony Fauci recently stated that he would not go into a restaurant, yet New Hampshire inn and restaurant workers are required to do this or lose their unemployment benefits.
Our “Live Free or Die” state is not free but dependent on tourism, a business we have discovered is non-essential to our survival if not to our present economic structure. Tourism is also responsible for 8% of total greenhouse gasses. (2009-2013: https://www.carbonbrief.org/tourism-responsible-for-8-of-global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-study-finds) We can no longer afford to burn fossil fuels to have a good time.
Tourism also builds its wealth on the backs of the poor. People could not afford to own or patronize restaurants, hotels and motels if the workers there were not underpaid and for the most part without benefits or job security in this ‘fire at will’ state.
Governor Sununu has chosen exploited hospitality workers to be guinea pigs in his experiment with reviving the economy. Wage slavery is bad enough; now its stress and insecurity are exacerbated by the danger of Covid to these hospitality workers and their families.
We have all heard of the unemployed who are not going back to work because their unemployment benefits are greater than what they would make by returning to risky employment. If the data even supports this, it indicates a problem not with the Covid $600, chosen because it would provide the unemployed with the median income of a working person in the U.S. It indicates a problem with the low-wage, low-status, often boring, meaningless jobs available to many New Hampshire workers.
Governor Sununu should allow employees who feel their workplace is unsafe to stay at home without losing their unemployment. He should approve a $15.00 an hour minimum wage bill that treats workers like the people they are rather than a ‘resource’ for exploitation by business and the state. He should institute a universal basic income to give the poor and disadvantaged the means to survive and improve their situations, as data has shown UBI can do.
This would allow New Hampshire to move from tourism, which exploits disadvantaged workers while contributing to global warming, to agriculture, efficiency and other truly necessary businesses. In the end, what do we need? Food, shelter, clothing, tools, meaningful work, friends, health and functional communities. The rest is profligacy we can no longer afford; our first world theft from the third world and future generations. Reducing global warming requires global income equity and social equity. Governor Sununu rejects the evidence of global warming and lacks the humanity to support income and social equity for the people in this state.
The opinions expressed belong to the writer.