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Op-ed: Livable wage opens door to financial stability, dignity

By Lynn Hemingway

First Published Feb 15 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Feb 15 2014 01:01 am

We are a state justifiably proud of our business-friendly climate and our strong economy. "Industry" is our state motto. It has been on our state seal since it was codified into law in the first legislative session of our state in 1896.

We should be a state that values hard work, and the workers who accomplish it. We should be a state where, when you work hard for long enough, you are lifted out of poverty. It is the philosophy behind "industry."

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But in this state, today, this is not true. We have a minimum wage that lets people work, full time – an honest day’s work – and rewards them with far less than an honest day’s wage. We have a minimum wage that is not a living wage. It is a wage that leaves people in poverty, with no recourse, and no way out.

It’s time to change that. It’s time to bring a living wage to Utah.

We have, I truly believe, one of the best workforces in the country. Our teachers, we often say, do more with less. Our law enforcement officers and emergency response personnel put their lives on the line every day, and give it their all – industrious, day in and day out.

We owe it to them, and the thousands of Utahns who work hard every day and still struggle to pay their rent or put food on the table for their families. We owe it to our children, and their children, to ensure our state is one where hard work gets you somewhere, and the American Dream is alive and well for those who have the courage and persistence to grasp it.

The New York Times has a calculator on its website. Users tally up their monthly expenses, and at the end, it tells them whether they can survive on a minimum wage salary in their state, and whether the costs balance out with the wages. I’ll save you a trip to the site – you can’t, and they won’t.

And then, the site will tell you which state might be a better fit for you – a state with a higher minimum wage. We are known for our incredible quality of life, and we must be proactive and aggressive in making sure that remains true. No one should ever tell our citizens to leave the state for a chance at a better life.

Studies have shown that decreasing poverty in our communities has long lasting side effects that can change the course of a families’ destinies, and those of their neighborhoods. Lower poverty rates mean a higher marriage rate, a lower divorce rate, smaller crime rates, and lower instances of expensive behavioral and academic issues among our youth. The health of our families and the cities they live in are well worth the investment, and it is well-known that our industrious, but cash-strapped education system can use every dollar we can manage to get it.

There is an economic boon as well, as the purchasing power of Utah’s citizens will grow correspondingly with a living wage. And these Utahns will spend their dollars in Utah businesses and grow our local and state economies. A deeper base draws more businesses, and so, our "industry" grows.

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At the end of the day, it is a principle tenet of many faiths — do unto others what you would have them done to you. Show charity to those who need it. Live the faith. Raising the minimum wage opens a door to thousands of Utahns – one that, otherwise, will remain stubbornly shut to them. It is the door of financial stability, of dignity, and the principle behind our state’s venerable motto.

Rep. Lynn Hemingway is a Democrat representing House District 40, and is currently running HB73, which raises Utah’s minimum wage to a livable standard.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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