Raising the minimum wage in Rhode Island: Why it matters

By Steve Ahlquist
RI Future

Douglas Hall, Ph.D, the director of Economic and Fiscal Policy at the Economic Progress Institute (EPI) spoke before the House Finance committee to present actual facts about the need to raise the minimum wage here in Rhode Island. One important fact:

“Because of the impact of inflation,” said Hall, “any year in which we do not increase the minimum wage, we are effectively giving our lowest paid workers in this state a wage cut.” (See here)

There was no increase in the minimum wage in Rhode Island this year.

Hall began by citing a report from EPI that determined that the per hour wage to live in Rhode island is $12.38 an hour, a far cry from the present minimum wage of $9.60 and not even close to the proposed $10.50. (See here) “We’re talking about families that are making less than $20,000 a year,” said Hall. “Clearly, in a state like Rhode Island, that’s not going to get you to where you need to be.”

Michael Araujo, executive director of Rhode Island Hobs with Justice, drew his figures on who will be affected by increasing the minimum wage from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but his numbers were not all that different from Hall’s. “We’re talking about adults,” said Araujo. “This was not intended as a ‘training wage’ when it was initially started by FDR in ’38, it was considered to be a living wage, and designed to be as such.”

“Employees aren’t widgets,” said Araujo. “So when we use those high school economics metrics of ‘if X goes up then Y goes up,’ that’s not exactly how it works. Human beings don’t move like products, they move like human beings and they have different costs and different needs. So it’s very important that when we consider the minimum wage we consider them as people and not as a simple balance sheet item. It’s a little bit more complicated than that.”