After weeks of embarrassing publicity and political mobilization, Yale University has been forced to rehire Corey Menafee, an African American employee who was fired for smashing a stained glass window at Yale’s Calhoun College that depicted slaves shouldering bales of cotton. For over a year, Calhoun College has been the subject of intense national controversy because it is named after one of America’s foremost defenders of slavery and white supremacy. Menafee’s actions, firing, and now rehiring gave expression, and amplification, to the controversy. But now there’s a new source of controversy…
A 2011 Pew poll reported a higher opinion of socialism than capitalism among those aged 18 to 30. I doubted it, must be a fluke, and paid no attention. Five years later on the New Haven Green, on college campuses, in workplaces and neighborhoods I see this opinion taking positive shape.
If raising the federal minimum wage would hurt businesses, as many aver, then it stands to reason that lowering the federal standard from $7.25 an hour would help. What are we waiting for? How about $5, perchance $3 an hour? That would be a steroid injection for our sluggish economy. Connecticut, which keeps raising its lowest wage, just doesn’t get it.
My business, the Voices of Women of Color, is a grassroots advocacy firm, which provides political and issue-based outreach. The lion’s share of people who are paid by the Voices, either as consultants or part-time employees, are female. They are mostly single mothers doing everything they can to make ends meet. They, too, are impacted by the political decisions at the local and state level, and there are times when business and community issues are at odds. As a woman of color, I am painfully aware of disparities beyond gender. But I am also aware that addressing these disparities requires strategic approaches on many levels, not just through legislation.
This week I am in Connecticut with the state’s Campaign for Paid Family Leave, a coalition of advocates pushing for the passage of a smart system of paid leave. This system is entirely employee-funded. It will offer workers 12 weeks of paid time off to welcome a baby or care for themselves or an ill loved one. It will be paid at 100 percent of a worker’s earnings, which is essential to ensuring that lower-income workers can afford to use the benefit.
As a student at the University of Connecticut, it breaks my heart to see the non-faculty professional employees being disrespected by state political leaders and the news media. It is shameful that some legislators are taking a “victory lap” after members of the University of Connecticut Professional Employees Association (UCPEA) decided to withdraw their contract due to a clerical error.
Recently there has been much discussion about the need for municipal and state workers to face the new reality of current budgetary constraints. As a Hartford taxpayer, I recognize that current labor agreements are not sustainable, and a failure to restructure health and pension benefits could lead to bankruptcy and an even harsher reality. But in fairness, I also feel there is a need for a more honest and holistic discussion of this new economic reality.
It is no secret that what has become known as the sell-out has delivered an ample supply of low skilled, low wage and low-benefited jobs to replace the mass exodus of good paying and skilled American manufacturing jobs. Connecticut and New England have been states hit hardest by the loss of these jobs. Not long ago, folks could opt out of college to pursue trade school and expect the opportunity of well paying manufacturing jobs in industries like hardware, tools, plating, arms, naval or aeronautical. These opportunities have virtually disappeared, the victim of plant closings and shifts to overseas production.
Last week, the governor’s office announced and the legislature approved cuts totaling $78 million. Even though I believe this is only a Band-Aid to a structural problem our state government faces, it is a better way to resolve our deficit woes without going after our hard-working taxpayers once again. This deficit mitigation plan only addresses this fiscal year’s current gap. What has to be addressed before the conclusion of this session is the $900 million deficit we are facing in the year ahead.
It is clear that minimum wage jobs cannot adequately support families in a state like Connecticut. The Federal Poverty Level, which is used widely in determining eligibility for various kinds of assistance, for a family of three is $20,160 and for a family of two is $16,020. The time is now for Connecticut to join the national chorus for fair wages across the board. Empirical evidence shows that when we increase our wages, the median income goes up.
As income inequality rises, revenue declines. This is the counter-intuitive finding of states near and far from Connecticut which depend heavily on income tax. This is also why Connecticut is in the midst of another budget crisis and why more are expected.