With final votes in both chambers today, the General Assembly passed legislation to increase Rhode Island’s minimum wage from $11.50 to $15 over a four-year period.
The bill will now be sent to the governor, who plans to sign it into law in a ceremony Thursday at 10:30 a.m. outdoors on the Smith Street side of the State House.
The bill (2021-H 5130A, 2021-S 0001aa) sponsored by Rep. David A. Bennett and Sen. Ana B. Quezada, would increase the minimum wage to $12.25 on Jan. 1, 2022; raise it to $13 on Jan. 1, 2023; raise it to $14 on Jan. 1, 2024; and finally to $15 on Jan. 1, 2025.
“At last, Rhode Island is on the path toward breaking the cycle of poverty for those at the bottom of the wage spectrum. Minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation over the decades, and our neighboring states have already taken this step toward making it closer to a living wage,” said Representative Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston). “This legislation is a long time coming, the result of many years of advocacy by many on behalf of working people. I’m very grateful to my colleagues for moving this bill forward today for the sake of hardworking Rhode Islanders, many of whom do critical work in health care and other essential services, and who were asked to put their own lives at risk during the worst of the pandemic. Today, we are committing to a more livable wage for our constituents, because working families deserve the dignity of being able to support themselves on their wages.”
The minimum wage in Rhode Island was last raised to $11.50 on Oct. 1, 2020. In Massachusetts, the minimum wage is currently $13.50, but is scheduled to rise to $15 by Jan. 1, 2023. Connecticut’s minimum wage goes to $13 in August, and is slated to rise to $15 on June 1, 2023.
According to the Rhode Island Working Families Party, 61 percent of those whose wages will be affected by the bill are female, and more than 31 percent of all workers of color in Rhode Island will be affected.
“Raising the minimum wage lifts people out of poverty, particularly women and people of color who are vastly overrepresented at the bottom of the wage scale,” said Senator Quezada (D-Dist. 2, Providence). “It will mean fewer children spending hours alone every day because their parents work two or three jobs to pay the rent. It will mean fewer people suffering from homelessness or food insecurity. It will mean more money spent at local stores and businesses, and more reliable income for landlords. Getting individuals and families to a level of income that more closely aligns with today’s cost of living will also ease the demand on public assistance. Raising the minimum wage makes our state a safer, healthier and more prosperous place to live.”
The sponsors added that minimum wage increases, particularly those aimed at bringing Rhode Island’s wage up to the level of surrounding states, help employees without putting their companies at a competitive disadvantage, since they apply to all employers.
Representative Bennett, who is chairman of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee, has been the primary sponsor of every law enacted to raise Rhode Island’s minimum wage since 2012, when minimum wage was $7.40. Senator Quezada has frequently cosponsored the bills in previous years.
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