Minimum Wage Hike Affects Thousands of Berkshire Workers

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Gov. Deval Patrick signs into the law the nation's highest minimum wage.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Minimum wage workers just got a boost in Massachusetts.

Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday signed a bill making the state's minimum wage the highest in the nation, raising it from the current $8 to $11 over the next several years.

According to data from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, the hike will directly affect some 11,000 workers in the greater Pittsfield area and indirectly another 2,600, or about 27 percent of wage earners.

"Today, Massachusetts joins a growing coalition of states that have taken up the president's call to increase wages and ensure no American working full-time has to support a family in poverty," said the White House in a statement. "Governors, state legislatures, and private businesses are leading by taking action, and we urge Congress to join them so that all Americans have the opportunity to succeed."

Opponents have said the increase would negatively impact business and drive up consumer costs. The Massachusetts Restaurant Association has said it was better to create jobs and advancement opportunities rather than raise wages for entry-level workers such as teenagers.

Other than other hand, the group Business for a Fair Minimum Wage has strongly advocated for the increase, saying it will give workers more dollars to spend, reduce turnover and enhance quality and morale. Representatives from the group planned to be at Thursday's bill signing.

According to MassBudget, more than 600,000 workers are at minimum wage, and more than 85 percent of those are age 20 and older. More than half are women and 140,000 are parents.  

If the 1968 minimum wage had retained its value, it would be $10.86 today, according to MassBudget. Instead, minimum wage workers have seen their employment value drop by some $5,500 a year.

"Today, Massachusetts stands up and says that no one who works full time should live in poverty," said U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. "Raising our state's minimum wage will help hundreds of thousands of workers make ends meet and will give them a fighting chance to build a better future for themselves and for their kids."

The bill also lowers unemployment insurance costs for employers, is designed to strengthen safety protections for workers and makes permanent the multiagency task force charged with combating the underground economy.

Eight other states have raised minimum wages this year, including Connecticut to $10.10 and Vermont to $10.50. President Obama has been lobbying Congress to set $10.10 as the federal minimum.

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