US Census Bureau data released in September show that despite
the ongoing improvement seen by state economies since the end of the Great Recession,
far too many Latinx and Black workers continue to face barriers to prosperity
for themselves and their families. One strategy we can employ to boost incomes
for Rhode Island’s workers of color is to increase the state minimum wage to
$15 an hour.
In 2017, one in nine (11.6%) Rhode Islanders struggled to
afford basic necessities. The poverty level for a single adult was $12,140 a
year in 2017 and $24,600 for a family of four. Among communities of color,
nearly one in four Black (24.3%) or Latinx (23.4%) Rhode Islanders lived in
poverty. Latino ($41,123) and Black ($37,781) median incomes also trail the
overall Rhode Island median income ($63,870) by a wide margin—and an even wider
margin when compared to median income for non-Hispanic White households
Today, we need bold action to address poverty and income
inequality—we need a $15 minimum wage. Over half of Black and Latinx workers
(51% Black/54% Latinx) would benefit from such a wage increase.
We know bold action can work. One of our shared values as a
country and as a state is that everyone should have access to affordable and
comprehensive health insurance. This is why we took bold action—passing the
Affordable Care Act (ACA)—in order to address barriers that keep people from
having access to quality health care. It has worked. In 2017, the percentage of
uninsured Rhode Islanders was 4.6 percent, less than half the 2013 rate before
the ACA went into effect. This rate makes Rhode Island tied for fourth in the
nation for health care coverage.
Despite improvements in health insurance, the data reminds us
that too many Rhode Islanders continue to face obstacles that prevent them from
getting ahead. Rhode Island’s economy won’t truly be able to thrive until Rhode
Islanders of all races, ethnicities, and ages earn the wages necessary to
provide for themselves and their families.