The majority of workers in Hartford and other Connecticut cities are paid less than $15 per hour. That information is found in a 2016 report of the Boston Federal Reserve. An even larger percentage of women and persons of color in those cities earn less than $15. Surprisingly, more than 30 percent of all Connecticut workers earn less than $15.
Who are low-wage workers? They are home health and nurse aides, substitute teachers and classroom assistants, fast food and other food service workers, ticket takers, ushers, dishwashers, janitors, cleaners and housekeepers, Bradley airport baggage handlers, cashiers, retail clerks, child-care workers, hotel desk clerks, and dozens more.
Low wages unnecessarily stress the state economy, government services, and workers and their families. The state can reduce each of these stresses by increasing the minimum wage.
What can be done to address low wages? A $15 minimum wage is a start.
The state-sanctioned minimum wage is $10.10. Sadly, that wage is thousands of dollars a year below the federal poverty level wage for a family of four. In fact, the Connecticut United Way reports that a household survival budget for a Connecticut family of four calls for a two workers, each earning at least $17.50 per hour. Although not perfect, raising the wage to $15 over the next three years is a significant improvement over our current minimum wage.
Fortunately, a pro-growth group, the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth for Connecticut, reports to the legislature in March 2018. The commission’s charge is, among other things, to “materially improve the attractiveness of the state for … residents.”
The commission could adopt a simple and attainable pro-growth strategy – raise Connecticut’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.
A $15 wage puts Connecticut in step with the minimum wage for nearly 20 percent of the American population. New York, California, and much of Massachusetts either already have a $15 wage or are moving there in two to three years. Many American cities have already moved to a $15 wage.
A few financial service employers are increasing pay to at least $15 – Aetna, Wells Fargo, Travelers, Cigna, Webster Bank. Other large employers have increased the minimum wage for their workers above the current $10.10 level, but not to $15. Some smaller state employers have increased wages to $15. For example, $15 is being paid at a well-known Hartford area barbeque restaurant and to employees for some skilled trade workers. And the CT Conference of the United Church of Christ has asked its member congregations to move to a wage of at least $15 for church staff.
Employers have found increased wages improve employee morale, productively, and the skill level of job applicants and reduce employee turnover – saving on recruitment and training costs. And importantly, low-wage workers spend nearly all of increased wages on needed goods and services – stimulating more economic growth and employment in Conneccticut businesses. And, better-paid workers pay more taxes.
The Connecticut legislature considered a $15 wage bill last year. It will be introduced again this year. The Commission on Fiscal Stability is urged to have the courage and vision to recommend a $15 wage fro CT. It will help the CT economy and low-wage workers. A well-paid workforce is good both for workers and for Connecticut.
David D. Biklen lives in West Hartford.