By Rob Roper
The $15 minimum wage is an increasingly hot topic in the election debates. Proponents have faith that artificially increasing the cost of labor will be a benefit to low-wage workers. Opponents can point to evidence that the $15 minimum wage will force employers to lay off employees, cut hours or go out of business entirely, damaging the overall economy. But the group that will be hurt most by a $15 minimum is senior citizens. Here’s why.
According to UVM economist Art Woolf, a majority of Vermonters living below the poverty line do not work. That’s 31,000 non-working poor. Many of these are retired senior citizens living on a fixed income. Of course, if you’re not working you will receive zero benefit from an artificial increase in the wage rate. However, you would be harmed by the very real inflation resulting from the policy.
Businesses would have to pass on the higher cost of labor to their customers in the form of higher prices for goods and services. Senior citizens living on fixed incomes would, therefore, have to pay more for things like food, nursing care, household help, and so on, with no boost in income to help cover those costs. In other words, fixed incomes would not stretch as far under a $15 minimum wage.
State Sen. Richard Westman, R-Lamoille, raised an example from his own life experience in that he would no longer be able to afford in-home nursing care for his aging parent if the $15 minimum wage became law. He also noted that Lamoille Home Health and Hospice would have to raise or charge an extra $80,000 to cover wage increases for their visiting nurses, and that money will have to come from someone, most likely in the form of higher bills to the people in need of the service.
Vermont is the second oldest state in the union when it comes to the average age of its residents, which would mean implementing this experiment here would come with a disproportionately high level of pain.