With approval in the House Wednesday, the General Assembly has raised Rhode Island’s minimum wage to $9 per hour beginning Jan. 1. The legislation will now head to the governor’s office.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Erin P. Lynch and Rep. David A. Bennett, will provide minimum wage workers a $1-per-hour raise over the current state minimum wage, $8. The sponsors say the legislation is meant to assist those at the bottom of the wage scale, as well as those making somewhat more, in a state with a high cost of living.
“Supporting yourself and your family in Rhode Island when you make minimum wage is extremely difficult. Those trying to support a family of three or more on it are living below the federal poverty line. This raise will provide some measure of assistance for those struggling at the low end of the pay scale, but our larger goal is to move wages up for all Rhode Islanders by moving the starting point. Our entire economy suffers when the middle class and low-wage earners can’t make ends meet,” said Representative Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston).
Said Senator Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), “If you put more money in people’s pockets, they spend, especially those living in or near poverty. They will put it right back into our economy buying the things their families need, supporting local businesses. When a great deal of people don’t have enough, they aren’t the only ones suffering. The small local shops that need their business are hurt, too. We’ve lost far too many of those businesses since the recession, and more money in the pocket of average Rhode Islanders will help prevent us from losing more, while helping families struggling to put food on the table and to pay the rent.”
An employee who makes $8 per hour grosses $16,640 annually if working 40 hours a week all 52 weeks of the year. At $9 an hour, that total increases to $18,720.
Representative Bennett and Senator Lynch were also the sponsors of successful legislation last year that changed Rhode Island’s minimum wage from $7.75 to $8 in 2014.
When introduced, their 2014 legislation (2014-H 7194A, 2014-S 2249A) included provisions for an additional $1 raise effective Jan. 1, 2016, with the minimum wage indexed to rise at the rate of inflation at the beginning of every subsequent year. Those provisions were removed during the legislative process in order to win passage of a raise this year.
In neighboring Massachusetts, lawmakers are expected to pass legislation today to raise their minimum wage from $8 to $11 per hour by 2017, with $1 increases each Jan. 1, until that year. That would mean both states’ minimums would match at $9 in 2015. Earlier this year, Connecticut enacted a law to raise its minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017.