There’s no question that people who are chronically at minimum wage will face very difficult financial times, particularly if they are their family’s main wage earner.
There’s no question that if Rhode Island raises its minimum wage to the highest in the nation, it will perpetuate the belief that Rhode Island simply is a state that is unfriendly to business expansion.
A dilemma? Not really. We certainly need to continuously look at the minimum wage to assure that it is reasonable. But we also need to understand that just adjusting the minimum wage is merely tinkering with the symptoms, and not the disease.
First, we can’t constantly send signals outside of Rhode Island that this state is going to embrace programs that set it apart from other states in terms of the cost of doing business: Sunday overtime laws, for instance.
A few weeks ago our executive poll asked if companies would consider moving out of state. The overwhelming response – upwards of 90 percent – was no. But last year not a single company suggested it would consider moving out of state. Among those saying they would consider moving was a substantial Rhode Island company with significant employment. The chief executive complained how expensive it is to do business here compared to neighboring states.
If we continue to proliferate the perception that we are a more expensive state in which to do business than our neighbors, then the result will continue to be lost jobs, lost opportunities.
Better to look at why people remain on minimum wage. Why does someone chronically stay in jobs that pay only the minimum? Lack of training? Lack of work ethic skills? Lack of motivation? Language difficulties? Day care problems?
Rather than increase our minimum wage to the highest in the nation, let’s encourage companies to support programs to improve the skills of their lower wage employees — like Tower Manufacturing Corp. of South Providence, which has taken advantage of its location in an Enterprise Zone to implement a 16-week English literacy course for employees (see our story on page 3).
Let’s concentrate on training, day care, and other programs that improve the skills or address real concerns of lower wage employees, helping lift them from minimum wage to the skilled positions that our economy so desperately needs to fill.
Minimum wage should be only a way station to greater opportunity.