In the current debate about raising New Hampshire’s minimum wage, opponents of such a change have tended to focus on the potential consequences for teenage workers. For instance, one recent observer asserted that policymakers are “not listening to New Hampshire’s own young people” and that younger workers are the “ones most likely to lose [their] jobs when businesses can no longer afford to employ as many workers.”
Unfortunately, such views are at odds with both popular opinion and contemporary research on the minimum wage.
The most recent New Hampshire-specific polling available indicates that younger Granite Staters strongly support a higher minimum wage. More specifically, as the graph below illustrates, in January, Public Policy Polling asked local residents if they would support or oppose raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour. Overall, 60 percent of respondents answered that they would back such an increase; 64 percent of respondents aged 18 to 29 replied that they would favor that increase.
In February, the WMUR Granite State Poll asked much the same question, with a similar result. It asked respondents if they would support or oppose a two-stage increase in New Hampshire’s minimum wage, first to $8.25 per hour and then to $9.00 per hour, just as legislation (HB 1403) now before the Senate would achieve. In total, 76 percent of those surveyed responded that they either strongly or somewhat favored such an approach; among those aged 18 to 34, 49 percent strongly backed such a change, while 26 percent were somewhat in favor.
Moreover, the latest, most authoritative research on the impact of prior minimum wage increases finds that they have no measurable effect on employment levels, including among teenagers. One such study, written in 2010 by economists Arin Dube, T. William Lester, and Michael Reich, focused on employment in restaurants and other low-wage industries and found “no detectable employment losses from the kind of minimum wage increases we have seen in the United States.” Another comprehensive study conducted by the economists Sylvia Allegretto, Arin Dube, and Michael Reich in 2011 determined that “… minimum wage increases – in the range that have been implemented in the United States — do not reduce employment among teens.”
The reality is that, for the near future, the number of low-wage jobs is expected to grow in New Hampshire. Indeed, the Department of Employment Security expects to see the largest employment gains through the middle of 2015 among cashiers, retail salespersons, and fast food workers; the typical wage in all three of these occupations is $10.70 per hour or less. While New Hampshire should do as much as possible to attract, retain, and foster the growth of industries that employ highly skilled, well compensated employees, it should also ensure that all workers earn a wage that enables them to secure, at the very least, life’s basic necessities.