This year’s legislative session has seen a push to raise New Hampshire’s minimum wage. NHPR has been profiling some of the people who would be the most affected by that change.
Yesterday, we heard from a business owner who thought raising the minimum wage would be a good thing for his workers. Today, for our final story in this series, we head to Gorham in New Hampshire’s North Country.
“Do I need my sweatshirt?” a child asks.
Keenan Carrigan responds: “You might not need it. Do you want to bring it? Or just wear it? If you get warm you can take it off.”
It’s mid-morning -- time for the toddlers at Mother Goose Daycare to head outside to play. Keenan Carrigan, the co-director, lends a hand to the little ones as they line up by the door.
Carrigan is 31. She lives in Berlin, and she’s been working here on-and-off since she was 14. She’s been co-director, along with her mother, for four years now, and she’s in charge of the center’s budget and payroll. She says the minimum wage increase proposed by lawmakers would hit her and her community hard.
"It would be detrimental to our business because we can't ask our families to pay any more," she says. "They're strapped right now."
Mother Goose charges $37 per day for a child attending four or five days a week. For families, that can approach upward of $800 a month.
Mother Goose employs a dozen people, eight of whom are full-time. The rest are aides, who Carrigan says are high school students who start at New Hampshire’s current minimum wage: $7.25 an hour.
Current legislation proposes raising that to $12.
"If it did go all the way up to $12 an hour, we would have to compensate that across the board, because we couldn't have our high school aides making $12 an hour and our lead teachers with bachelor's degrees making $12 to $13 or $14 an hour. So they'd all get a $4.75 an hour increase."
To cover such an increase in labor costs, Carrigan says she’d have to increase rates from $37 per day to $61. That, she says, will force people to leave.
"They'd probably find retired family members who could help them out, or unlicensed child care centers in homes that might be able to get a lower daily rate and they'd go there," she says. "We'd have to downsize our staff completely. Our enrollment would have to drop. I don't know what would happen. We'd probably have to close down, eventually."
Childcare is already scarce in her area, and she’s concerned about families who don’t have other options. This includes families who have relocated to the area, with a parent landing a job at the federal prison in Berlin, and are unlikely to have an extended family member living nearby who can help look after a child.
Carrigan says the high school students making close to the minimum right now would be thrilled to receive the wage increase, but she says they aren’t considering how much more they would have to pay for everything else.
"Their groceries are going to go up. Their gas prices are going to go up. If they want to go out to restaurants, those prices will go up. They'll be making more money, but they'll also be spending it in all aspects of their life. Everything's going to have to go up."
As she watches the legislation with concern, Carrigan says a smaller increase to just $9 an hour would be sustainable. But, beyond that, there just isn’t much wiggle room.