State legislators have renewed efforts to increase the Connecticut minimum wage by as much as $1.50 over the next 18 months.
The increases sought include a 75-cent bump in July and a second 75-cent increase in July of 2014, which would bring Connecticut’s minimum wage, currently the second-highest in New England at $8.25, to nearly $10 an hour.
In a Jan. 31 public hearing held by the Labor and Public Employees Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly, advocates argued that a wage increase would afford workers a minimum amount of financial security, while business representatives said an increase in wages would ultimately mean fewer jobs, hurting the same class of people the bill is designed to help.
“The cost of living is high in Connecticut, as we know, and workers who earn minimum wage should not be asked to bear a disproportionate share of the burden in our sluggish economy,” said Sen. Martin Looney, a Democrat, at the hearing. “I think the concept is one we should act on in this session.”
The Connecticut minimum wage was last raised in 2010, and efforts to raise it last year were defeated. This year’s bill includes a provision for automatic increases in the minimum wage based on the consumer price index that wouldn’t require legislative approval every year.
Connecticut is currently one of 19 states, plus the District of Columbia, with a minimum wage higher than the federal standard. In both New York and New Jersey the minimum wage is $7.25, and while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently vetoed a minimum wage increase, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing for one.
According to a study contracted by the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), roughly 30 percent of men and women are paid minimum wage or less, which is very close to the federal poverty level, said Natasha Pierre, PCSW policy and legislative director.
“If we want workers to succeed and be able to support themselves and their families, we have to create a realistic floor on wages,” Pierre said. “Not one that leaves working adults and their families at or below poverty.”
To pay for the cost of basic needs, a Connecticut resident needs to make roughly $10.56 an hour on a full-time basis, according to the PCSW survey.
To cover basic needs with a moderate amount of emergency savings, an individual would need to earn more than $17 an hour. Pierre said that if workers were paid about $10.60 an hour, fewer people would require government assistance, leaving more funding to assist businesses. The PCSW survey did not research how an increase in wages would affect businesses, however.
However, Andrew Markowski, Connecticut director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), said the timing of the bill could not be worse, given the economy.
“Right now small business owners are suffering,” Markowski said. “The economy is teetering. Businesses are hurting and right now is not the time to have this increase.”
Markowski said he felt the bill was well intentioned but essentially bad policy, just as it was last year. NFIB members say an increase in wages would mean a decrease in the number of jobs, further hurting Connecticut’s unemployed and low-wage earners.
As other states attempt to catch up with Connecticut’s minimum wage, Markowski said further increases in Connecticut would only add to the high cost of doing business in the state.
“That just further isolates us in the region when we already have a reputation of being economically uncompetitive,” Markowski said.
Further action by the labor committee is expected in the next several weeks. If the increases are approved by the committee, the General Assembly would need to vote on the issue before the end of the legislative session in June.