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Mass. Senate votes to hike minimum wage to $11

Yawu Miller | 11/26/2013, 6 a.m.

With labor activists planning a ballot referendum to raise the state’s minimum wage underway, the state Senate passed a bill that would raise minimum wage from the current $8 an hour to $11 by 2016.

Speaker Robert DeLeo indicated that the House would likely support and increase in the minimum wage, telling reporters that legislators will likely tie a wage hike to reforms to the state’s unemployment insurance program.

With the prospect of an increase likely, minimum wage workers in Massachusetts may likely see the first increase in wages since 2008. The $11 wage proposed by Senate President Therese Murray would boost the yearly earnings of minimum wage workers from the current $16,000 a year to $22,000. Murray’s bill would also index minimum wage to inflation, guaranteeing automatic raises.

Second Suffolk District Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who has consistently sponsored legislation to raise the minimum wage, said the increase would benefit communities across Massachusetts.

“Research shows the benefits to our communities and businesses that come with a restored minimum wage, as more money enters our local economy,” she said in a press statement. “Far more important, however, is what it means for the more than 500,000 workers and their families who would see their wages go up under this change.”

Massachusetts business leaders have indicated they would not oppose a bill increasing the minimum wage if the legislation includes reforms to the state’s unemployment insurance system, which is one of the most expensive in the country.

DeLeo told reporters the House will likely take up the issue, when the legislative session resumes in January.

House Majority Whip Byron Rushing says he’s confident the Legislature can come up with a compromise that’s acceptable to business leaders.

“I have no doubt that there are ways we can tighten up unemployment insurance,” he commented.

Under the state’s current unemployment insurance system, workers are eligible to collect insurance after they’ve worked 15 weeks. In most states, workers can only collect after 20 weeks. The state also pays benefits to the unemployed for 30 weeks. Most other states cut off benefits after 26 weeks.

Because the cost of living — rent, utilities, food, consumer goods — is constantly increasing, the value of the minimum wage has declined steadily since 1968, when it was the equivalent of $10.72 an hour in 2013 dollars.

“We’re talking about bringing the minimum wage back to where it was,” Rushing says. “We’re not even talking about a living wage.”

A living wage in Massachusetts — the amount a single adult needs to meet basic needs without subsidies — is $28,500, according to the Crittenton Women’s Union’s yearly Massachusetts Economic Independent Index. In Suffolk County, which includes Boston, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop and has higher rents than the rest of the state — and most of the United States — an individual needs $33,216 to live without subsidies, according to the organization.

The labor-backed group organizing a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage, Raise Up Massachusetts, is advocating increasing the minimum wage to $10.50 an hour. The group has collected 275,000 signatures, more than enough to place the question on the ballot for a state-wide vote next year.