The Rent Is Too Damn High: VT Grapples with Towering Cost of Living and Low Minimum Wage

Like many places across the country, there is mismatch between the average rent and a worker's income in the Green Mountain State. You might not be surprised to learn that a recent report demonstrates, once again, that Vermont is one of the hardest places to afford housing.

  In order to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment at the Fair Market Rent in Vermont, renters need to earn $19.36 per hour, or $40,272 a year. This is Vermont’s 2014 Housing Wage, revealed in a report released today. The report, Out of Reach 2014, was jointly released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Washington, DC-based research and advocacy organization, and the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition.

We don't have rent control in Vermont, and it's pretty certain that we never will, but we can do something about inadequate wages for working people.

For example, we can raise the minimum wage. That's only half the job, though. Sixty thousand workers in Vermont don't get paid sick time, so if they have to miss work they don't get paid. Picture being on a low salary already, then trying to make your rent when you miss out on a couple of days' pay this week.

We know that the means are at hand to address both of these problems: raise the minimum wage and require all employers to provide earned sick leave, but apparently that's a big lift this year.

Tom Stevens, the State Representative who has been the champion of the earned sick leave proposal, and a small business person, Jen Kimmich, one of the founders of the Alchemist, writing at VtDigger.org, point out that the evidence supports the sick leave proposal. It turns out that where it's been tried and studied it has not hurt small businesses.

A growing body of evidence should put to rest lobbyists’ predictions of doom. Kevin Westlye, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, opposed the first paid sick days bill in San Francisco, but later told a business reporter that it’s “the best public policy for the least cost. . . .” The current director of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce testified in committee hearings this year that concerns raised by Vermont’s business organizations were voiced in his city, too, but that seven years after implementation, earned sick days have had no adverse effect on his members.

In addition, just released research from Connecticut, the only state thus far to enact an earned sick day law, found that “the concerns articulated by many business associations that the law would impose heavy burdens on employers and invite worker abuse turn out to have been misplaced.” Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said the law had led to no change or an increase of less than 2 percent in their overall costs.

Time's running out. Call your legislator and tell them that you support both a minimum wage increase and earned sick leave. 


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