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Murray focuses on state’s low wages

Continuing to focus on the need to address how much people earn in Massachusetts, state Senate President Therese Murray blamed low wages for increases in government spending on housing, food, and health care.

“When you don’t make a living wage, government and businesses pay taxes that fill in that gap,” Murray told the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield Wednesday afternoon. “So when you say government has grown too large, what you’re getting is government is paying for day care, for subsidized day care, for subsidized meals at school, breakfast, lunch, and dinners, and after-school programs.

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“We’re paying for MassHealth and Medicaid. We’re paying for transportation. We’re paying for subsidized housing. We’re paying for fuel assistance in conjunction with the federal government. So you’re paying it anyway.”

Murray said a minimum-wage worker earns $16,704 annually, below the federal poverty line and well below the $28,500 she said is required for someone to be economically independent in Massachusetts. Murray asked the business people gathered in the Senate Reading Room for feedback on the ­issue, but received no questions.

Asked on her way out of the room whether she had an idea of where the minimum wage should be, Murray said “not at the moment,” but said that would be part of the discussion.

“I’ve been meeting with lots of people who have a great interest in talking about it,” Murray said, mentioning that she had met with Catholic Charities on Tuesday.

The Senate president, who helped steer a $500 million tax proposal to pay for transportation through the upper chamber earlier this month, said, “We plan to propose a number of changes” to unemployment insurance, which she described as a “considerable hardship to businesses.”

Year after year, the Legislature has frozen unemployment insurance rates, blocking planned increases in a bid to ease the costs facing businesses recovering from the recession. Murray said the system should be “more sensitive” toward different types of employment, including seasonal employment.

While hailing a 23 percent growth in the manufacturing industry in Massachusetts from 2009 to 2011 and the lowest unemployment rate since November 2008, Murray said some parts of the state are still struggling.

“We know unemployment is still high in some areas of the Commonwealth, including Springfield,” Murray said.

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