In the Jan. 3, 2014 edition of the Banner there was an article titled 'Minimum Wage Hike? Local Officials Mixed.' In this article, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders is quoted as saying, "If people work 40 hours a week, they deserve not to live in dire poverty," as he advocates for a livable wage in the United States.
This also quotes some of our local leaders opposing a livable wage. The article states "Joann Erenhouse, executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, argued that, "Most people who are getting minimum wage are fringe workers, or part-time." She went on to say that most who are getting minimum wage are not supporting a family on that income. She said it was much more common for one spouse to be working a full-time, above minimum wage job, and the other to take on a minimum wage job to make a little extra money for the family."
And the article adds, "Michael Harrington, Bennington's economic and community development director, said. . . , "I think the intent is good, but the part that really needs to be considered is the impact on employers."
I understand the concern of the small businesses. They are, after all under attack from Big Box store competition, and this is why: The majority of people who are making minimum wage in Bennington are not spouses looking to make some extra 'date night' money. They are young and they are middle aged. They are single mothers and single fathers. They are grandfathers and grandmothers. They are families struggling just to put the cheapest food on the table - probably food less healthy than they would like or need. They are shopping at Aldis and WalMart. Dollar stores are popping up all over town. Because, that is all Bennington can afford.
When the mail comes, they get a sinking feeling in their stomach. Afraid, that there's another bill they can't afford to pay. When the temperatures drop below freezing, they worry they won't be able to keep their children warm. They hold back their tears of shame when their children come home and excitedly announce they wish to join a sport team or band, because they know they can't afford to enroll their kids in extra curricular activities. When birthdays and anniversaries come, their heart breaks because the people that they love will not be getting things they desperately need. Not lavish jewelry, not designer bags or luxury vacations, but they cannot give their loved ones things that they actually need- even as a birthday gift. Because they are making a wage that cannot afford them to live in this town, this state or even this country.
Wake up Chamber and Better Bennington Corp.! Wake up Bennington Town and Select Board! The locals can't 'Buy Local' on $8.73/hr. If you want us to shop in your stores, you need to start treating us like neighbors and paying a livable wage so we can continue to live here and shop here. It's that simple.