OpEd by Gerry Knight, Veteran, covid-19 survivor, and retired caregiver. He lives in Black Eagle with his wife.
Great Falls, MT — Senator (Jon) Tester and I go way back – I know he understands that wages for working people is the same as weather for a farmer. Lousy income is like lousy weather, and without a sustainable $15-hour minimum wage, Montanans are in a lousy situation.
My wife and I moved with the Air Force to Montana in 1988. In 1992 we relocated to Black Eagle because it’s a peaceable, comfortable community where we are treated more as a friend than a stranger. It’s a place where we care about each other– because just like in the military when one member is having a hard time, we are here to support each other.
For many years, I worked as an in-home caregiver, as have both my wife and daughter. Late this past year I came down with COVID. Caregivers like me across the state put ourselves at risk to keep vulnerable Montanans safe in their own homes. Yet too many of us still make under $15 – it’s not right.
My wife still works, and like most people in our community, she only makes approximately $10 an hour. I worry about people in my community who are merely existing at these wages, juggling bills with nothing to fall back on, rather than thriving. Having a more sustainable wage of $15 an hour would help tremendously. It is about getting by, not getting ahead.
I am thankful that Senator Tester has always had a big heart for veterans and that he was able to establish the Veteran Support Center in Great Falls. A lot of veterans live in our community and I’ve been going there for assistance periodically.
A $15 an hour minimum wage would help Veterans and everyday Montanans. In 2017, the Economic Policy Institute estimated that 1 in 5 veterans nationally would also benefit from a higher minimum wage.
Senator Tester has an opportunity to help not just caregivers and Veterans, but so many families in Montana by supporting a $15 an hour minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage could mean an average of $233 more a month for affected workers in Montana, according to a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute. This wouldn’t put money in the bank, but it would lower our stress if we had a little bit to fall back on. If we need repairs to our home or truck, we could meet the challenge.
As a former small business owner, I believe this would be good for business. With a higher wage, employees are more apt to stay on the job, with more devotion to the company as a higher quality employee. The Economic Policy Institute report also shows that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would help 25% of 25–54-year-old workers and 23% of workers over 55 in Montana. This would be a boon to all Montana workers, not just recent high school graduates working entry-level jobs. With these wages folks are more apt to go out to do things, like enjoy a meal at a local restaurant. That in turn helps those local, small businesses. Families could purchase higher quality groceries at the local store rather than fast food that is cheap and bad for your heart. Flourishment is what I call it.
A sustainable $15-hour minimum wage is the right thing to do for caregivers and other essential workers keeping us safe in the pandemic. It’s the right thing to do for Veterans that sacrificed for our country. It’s the right thing to do for Montana’s economy. It is the soil from which a community grows, allowing us to weather storms when they happen and grow during the good times.