Presented June 11, 2013

Good Morning, Chairman Wolf, Chairman Conroy and through you to the Committee.  My name is Aaron Agulnek from the Jewish Community Relations Council and I am here to testify in support of legislation that would increase the minimum wage in the Commonwealth.

The Minimum Wage was approved specifically to ensure that working people were paid wages to supply the necessary cost of living.  While there have been periodic statutory fixes, working families have been incrementally squeezed as its overall value has decreased. Erosion in the real value of the minimum wage has had a serious impact on the standard of living of the working poor. By tying future increases to inflation, and by doing it right, we can better ensure that employee wages DO supply the necessary cost of living, as envisioned by the original state law.

Today, there is abundant news about record breaking corporate profits and the soaring stock market; but these gains have not translated into overall economic security and are not the only metrics for measuring current fiscal realities. If you ask the majority of working class families, there simply has not been a recovery only stasis or more persistent poverty. Rising income inequality and rate stagnation for low-wage workers has been a primary factor in the destabilization of the middle class.

A recent study has shown that individuals who work for the minimum wage are unable to afford the basic necessities of life and are still heavily reliant on state and federal programs meant to address poverty.  Just think about that: People who have jobs still need anti-poverty programs to survive.  There is something wrong with that scenario.  We have made a policy decision in the Commonwealth to collectively subsidize low wages at the expense of our public welfare.  It is time for us to reject that proposition and to refocus our investments in training a modern workforce and to providing a hand up for those in need.

Contrary to what many opponents argue, we have seen that increases in the minimum wage do not adversely impact the economy.  Rather, higher pay for low-income workers puts money in the pockets of families and individuals who need it and spend it in the local communities.  This injection of money stimulates the local economy and eases the burden on state resources. We can do better and we must do better.

The Jewish Community Relations Council has consistently maintained that the Commonwealth has a primary responsibility for alleviating poverty and for ensuring conditions that allow families to move from poverty to economic mobility. This includes the guarantee of a minimum wage sufficient to allow families to support themselves.  In addition, the Jewish community believes that we need to find innovative ways to train the next generation of workers necessary to fill the skills gap.  This is the best way to transition people off of public assistance and into sustainable employment.

We thank you for your commitment to these issue and look forward to collaborating with this Committee to create policies that get people trained and into jobs with opportunities for advancement