Who has the right to live in Vermont?

Posted
To argue the merits of $10.50 per hour for a 40-hour work week underscores the problem with S.40, An Act Relating to Increasing the Minimum Wage to $15 per hour. Sadly, your rationalizing against support for S.40 when $15 is far below what it costs to live in our state speaks poorly of your priorities.

Your lack of support for S.40 underscores your indifference to Vermont's marginalized population. In fact, no one should dignify the argument that a worker getting to $15 by 2024 is too much, too fast. The rationale is ludicrous given that a true livable wage in Vermont in 2018 is twice the current amount of $10.50.

Your arguments really come with the sad realization that not everyone can afford to live in Vermont. So the question is, do only a few have the right to live here with adequate means?

Our tourism industry as presently constructed asks us to evaluate that question in light of the fact that it could not long survive, nor would our largest farms, nor would much of our economy — were it not for so many workers that receive inadequate wages but come seasonally from out of the country because what we have is better than what they have at home.

They are willing to work for wages Vermonters can't afford to work at. They pay another price for the opportunity to work here — separation from family, cramped living conditions, many extra hours of labor.

Ironically, S.40 comes up for your vote at a time when the Scott administration is seeking to attract people to come and live and work in our state. We have a lot of people of color doing that now, but that isn't the demographic the administration is thinking about attracting. Last week,the first reports came in that the initial response is the campaign has had a "chilly" response.

Could it be that the administration has overlooked a connection between attracting young families to the state and their need to earn a livable wage?

I believe S.40's passage will cause a positive ripple effect. Conversely, if it doesn't pass, it will be more like a whirlpool. Vermonters and would-be Vermonters will in all cases continue to be affected by the politics of poverty, systematic marginalization of populations and legislative decisions locally as well as federally.

In a nutshell, our state (and nation) are dealing with problems seldom acknowledged by legislators because you do not have the will to fix them until pressured to do so. Here are a list of associated concerns that apply to S.40:

1. Poverty is ultimately more expensive than preventing poverty. We have at our disposal evidence and projected base outcomes and the associated costs of poverty-related problems such as opioid addiction, alcoholism, domestic abuse, unwanted pregnancies, emergency room visits, ACE's (Adverse Childhood Experiences), truancy, delinquency, robbery, incarceration, homelessness, mental health, childhood malnutrition — the list goes on.

2. The basic necessities of food, shelter, heating and adequate health care should not be beyond the reach of every Vermont (American) citizen. Economically, it is in the best interest of society to make lives at least manageable, and a livable wage does this.

3. A moral society ensures the safety of its citizens — that safety is best provided through adequate and affordable healthy food, clean water, clothing, housing, health care and education.

So when you, as a Vermont legislator, refuse to even support the meager minimum wage Bill S.40 (when you know it doesn't even approach a livable wage), then you are rejecting a segment of your constituents that are hurting most. More than that, you are turning a blind eye on the systemic problem of poverty in Vermont (and America). S.40 is a flawed document, but let me be blunt, your legislative non-support of it as a benchmark is not acceptable because a vote against S.40 will contribute to the inevitable further erosion of the Vermont's economic and moral future. The costs of poverty are just that high!

Rev. Dr. Steven E. Berry is minister of the Congregational Church of Rupert, a former Vermont state legislator and a board member of SolarFest and Pace e Bene.

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