New poll shows statewide support for $20 minimum wage

By ERIN TIERNAN

State House News Service

Published: 03-16-2023 4:25 PM

BOSTON — New polling suggests statewide support for another minimum wage hike and as lawmakers weigh a push to raise the wage floor, an advocacy coalition is now actively pondering a ballot question to “force the issue.”

The Change Research survey found that 59% of Bay State voters said they would support raising the minimum wage in Massachusetts to $20 an hour compared to 33% who are opposed and 7% who are undecided, according to the results of a new poll shared first with MASSterList. The survey conducted for Northwind Strategies polled 711 likely Massachusetts voters last month, recruiting responses over Facebook and Instagram and through text message appeals.

It revealed a majority of voters are in favor of boosting the minimum wage, which at $15 an hour is already the fourth-highest in the nation.

“I was surprised, to be honest — given that we just raised the minimum wage — that support was this high on the heels of finishing up the last hike. But it is,” longtime Democratic strategist Doug Rubin said.

The poll was the first to put the issue back in front of voters as discussions around a wage hike and the state’s high cost of living heat up.

It takes nearly $18 as of November 2022 to buy what $15 bought in June 2018, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Bills filed by Winchester Sen. Jason Lewis (SD 2032) and Reps. Tram Nguyen of Andover and Daniel Donahue of Worcester (HD 3965) would raise the minimum wage by $1.25 per hour a year until it reaches $20 in 2027. The wage would then be tied to the consumer price index starting in 2028 so it automatically rises alongside inflation. The bills would also effectively double the lowest wage for tipped workers to $12 an hour.

Massachusetts’ minimum wage hit $15 an hour in January after five years of gradual raises. But weeks after the rate hit the ceiling outlined by the 2018 “grand bargain” law, progressive power players are already mobilizing to keep the hourly wage floor rising.

The Raise Up Coalition, the deep-pocketed faction of labor and community groups behind the first wage hike and the just-passed income surtax ballot initiative, last week filed paperwork with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance indicating their readiness to organize yet another ballot campaign.

“We considered organizing for a ballot initiative as a way to force the issue a bit,” said SEIU State Council Executive Director Harris Gruman, who filed the paperwork on behalf of Raise Up. “There is a tendency on Beacon Hill to go slow and be cautious. We respect that but with this, we feel the need to put it on the front burner.”

Gruman said the $15 won in 2018 “is not worth what [it] was then — not even close.”

Gov. Maura Healey, who has been trying to build a pro-business reputation, has said she believes the minimum wage should be adjusted over time to keep up with the cost of living. An aide told MASSterList only that she “would review any legislation that reaches her desk.”

Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano haven’t mentioned a wage hike bill among their session priorities, but their support would be critical to any effort to push a bill through the Legislature.

Making Massachusetts more affordable and helping people cope with the state’s high cost of living have emerged as themes in the new session, and the bills have picked up 47 co-sponsors — all Democrats — out of 200 lawmakers in the House and Senate.

Gruman pointed to the high costs of housing, child care and other necessities in Massachusetts as justification for another minimum wage increase, and said Raise Up hasn’t settled on $20 an hour just yet, hinting a ballot question could ask voters to raise wages even higher.

Raise Up’s ballot question committee filing lists its purpose as “building shared prosperity in the Commonwealth through higher minimum wages and fair and adequate taxation.”

A “living wage” calculator tool published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates an individual working full-time to support themselves in the Boston-Cambridge-Newton metropolitan area needs to earn $22.59 per hour to live comfortably. In Hampshire County, the living wage is calculated at $16.28 an hour for an individual.

Businesses still recovering

But making Machusetts more competitive and affordable in an era of high inflation and increasing interest rates can’t put the onus on the backs of small businesses, said Jon Hurst of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

“Thousands went out of business in the last three years due to COVID — from shutdowns, restrictions, lower sales, messaging, supply chain, labor costs, you name it. And now with inflation and interest rates, we can’t be adding more costs,” Hurst said.

If the unions continue to “leverage Beacon Hill,” Hurst said businesses will be forced to “leverage the unions” in an effort to block another wage hike.

No other state in the country has a $20 minimum wage nor legislation on the books to push it to that threshold in coming years. The $15 per hour wage that took effect Jan. 1 puts Massachusetts fourth among states and territories behind Washington, D.C. ($16.10), Washington state ($15.74) and California ($15.50), according to data tracked by the Economic Policy Institute.

When it comes to voters, Rubin said, “The only group that clearly doesn’t want to raise the minimum wage is Republicans.” Just 26% of GOP voters said they would support a wage increase compared to 64% of Democrats and 42% of unaffiliated voters.

Women overwhelmingly support increasing the minimum wage to $20 an hour, with 69% of female voters indicating support compared with 48% of men. Just 21% percent of women opposed boosting hourly wages while men revealed a near-even split on the issue with 46% saying they’re opposed.

Slicing the state into four quadrants, Greater Boston — the state’s most expensive region — had the strongest support with 65% of voters in support. Next was South Shore and South Coast voters with 60% in support, followed by North Shore voters where 56% are favorable to a wage hike. Even in the more conservative central and western parts of Massachusetts, a narrow majority (51%) of voters said they’d say “yes” to a $20 minimum wage.

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