Remember in those early days of the pandemic in 2020, once we were again allowed into grocery stores – wearing masks and only a few customers inside at a time? 

Along with the appreciation we showed for nurses and doctors who kept our hospitals open and cared for the growing number of people sickened by the coronavirus, we came to understand how the “essential worker” label extended to the clerks restocking shelves and the cashiers in the checkout lines.

People needed food. When they cautiously ventured out on a grocery run, they found store shelves mostly stocked because a low-wage clerk was showing up, day after day, to do his or her job in the midst of a pandemic. We thanked them when we understood the risks they were taking to do a job that made our lives better. And people began talking about how those supermarket and pharmacy workers deserved hazard pay or – better yet – higher wages. 

When Jan. 1, 2021 came around the state’s standard minimum wage rose to $13.50 per hour. Next Jan. 1 it rises to $14.25 and on Jan. 1, 2023 it will be set at $15 per hour.

The better news this week, reported by the Washington Post, is that the average pay in restaurants and supermarkets nationwide recently hit $15 per hour. As the economy has reopened and businesses search far and wide for workers, the push for higher wages is benefiting some of the people at the lowest rungs of the pay scales. 

The Post reported that nearly 80% of U.S. workers are earning at least $15 per hour, up from 60% at that point in 2014. As many local businesses would attest, competition to fill all the shifts has made some people more selective about what kind of job they’ll accept and at what pay. 

Corporate chains have had to look at what they’re paying new employees; CVS announced this year it would increase starting pay from $11 to $15 by next summer, in line with some other big employers. And, when the big employers edge the pay rates higher, smaller employers are often forced to follow suit. That makes it tough to remain competitive but a higher minimum wage is good news for many people who struggle to pay their bills, while keeping the shelves stocked and the customers happy.

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