By Doug Ireland
---- — Across the country, the new year ushered in much-welcomed pay increases for workers earning minimum wage in 10 states.
But for New Hampshire and Massachusetts residents, there was nothing.
Granite State workers continue to earn the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Bay State minimum-wage employees receive an hourly wage of $8.
New Hampshire is the only New England state that doesn’t pay more than than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
The 10 states to raise their minimum wage include Vermont and Rhode Island. Vermont’s minimum hourly rate rose from $8.46 to $8.60 — the third-highest in the country — while the minimum wage in Rhode Island rose from $7.40 to $7.75.
The other states to see increases are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon and Washington, which has the highest minimum wage in the country at $9.19 per hour.
New Hampshire isn’t alone in paying only $7.25 an hour. Twenty-nine other states also pay the federal minimum, according to David Cooper, an economic analyst with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. A handful of states with minimum wages below $7.25 are required to pay the federal rate, he said.
The institute and the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit advocacy group based in New York City, have compiled detailed analyses of the minimum wage increases.
Cooper and National Employment Law Project attorney Tsedeye Gebreselassie conclude the increases will be beneficial to those 10 states, bolstering their economies and raising the wages for nearly a million working-class people.
The average annual pay for those workers will rise between $190 and $510 per person, depending on the state.
Cooper said putting more money in the hands of low-income workers by raising the minimum wage has a widespread effect, stimulating the economy and leading to pay raises for more affluent workers as well.
He said Vermont is a perfect example of a state where raising the minimum wage has had a dramatic effect. The state’s rate has increased annually since 2005, based on an inflation and cost-of-living index.
“I think the Vermont experience is a good thing,” he said. “Vermont’s employment growth in the last few years has been strong.”
Since 2009, Vermont has seen the best job growth of any New England state, Cooper said. The state’s employment rate increased 1 percent over that time, while New Hampshire’s dropped 0.3 percent, he said.
There are plenty of workers earning only minimum wage — or slightly more — in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts, Cooper said.
“New Hampshire has about 30,000 workers (of 625,000) who are making about the minimum wage, which is about 5 percent,” he said.
In Massachusetts, there are 125,000 people out of a total workforce of 3.26 million earning minimum wage or slightly more, Cooper said. That’s slightly below 4 percent — the average for the 10 states that saw wage increases.
N.H. earns rare distinction
Gebreselassie said while New Hampshire is just one of many states where workers are paid the federal minimum, the Granite State stands out from the rest.
New Hampshire has the distinction of being one of few states where lawmakers fought hard not to increase the minimum wage.
Two years ago, the Republican-led Legislature passed a bill that required New Hampshire to abide by the federal standard. When Democratic Gov. John Lynch vetoed the legislation, it was overriden by the GOP.
House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, criticized Lynch.
“With this veto, the governor is sending the wrong message to employers that New Hampshire is going to make it harder to create jobs,” O’Brien said at the time. Voters sent “a clear message they wanted more jobs, not job-killing regulations like the minimum wage.”
In 2011, House Republicans also defeated a Democratic-sponsored bill that would have increased the minimum wage by 75 cents an hour. Democrats contended it would put an additional $30 each week in the hands of New Hampshire’s lowest-paid workers, who would help stimulate the economy.
The double defeat of the minimum wage legislation didn’t go unnoticed around the rest of the country, Gebreselassie said.
“It was really unusual,” she said. “It was a very, very strange message to send. I was surprised the Legislature was able to override a veto of that bill.”
Gebreselassie said her organization supports efforts to boost the economy by raising wages for the nation’s lowest-paid workers.
“In this economic climate, here is something we can do to stimulate spending,” she said. “It debunks the myth that the minimum wage hurts businesses and kills jobs.”
But in New Hampshire, that’s not a myth, according to Republican lawmakers.
Rep. Carol McGuire of Epsom sponsored the 2011 bill that required New Hampshire to pay the federal minimum — and not a penny more. McGuire said Friday she doesn’t believe there should be any minimum wage and that pay should be dictated by the free market.
She said young people and low-skilled workers should not be entitled to receive minimum wage.
“They are not worth that much,” she said. “It’s a leap of faith to be paid that.”
McGuire said there are two bills in the works that call for raising the minimum wage. No legislation was proposed last year, she said.
Nearly all of the Southern New Hampshire legislative delegation backed McGuire’s legislation, HB 133, which passed, 261-110.
Supporters included House Finance Committee Chairman Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston.
Weyler said Thursday that although he sympathizes with workers who haven’t received a pay raise, raising the minimum wage during tough economic times would hurt the state’s small businesses.
Many restaurants have closed in recent years and those that remain open would have trouble footing wage increases, he said. Servers who receive tips are paid an hourly wage of $3.27.
“The restaurants and hospitality industry are having a hard time,” he said. “At this point, it would be just another nail in the coffin.”
The only local legislator to oppose McGuire’s bill was Rep. Mary Allen, R-Newton. Allen said Thursday she voted against it mostly because of the language, but supports higher wages for hospitality industry workers.
“I think it should be raised,” she said.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Minimum wage rises in some states State Wage Increase Arizona $7.80 $0.15 Colorado $7.78 $0.14 Florida $7.79 $0.12 Massachusetts $8.00 None Missouri $7.35 $0.10 Montana $7.80 $0.15 New Hampshire $7.25 None Ohio $7.85 $0.15 Oregon $8.95 $0.15 Rhode Island $7.75 $0.35 Vermont $8.60 $0.14 Washington $9.19 $0.15 Source: Economy Policy Institute