Although Connecticut is already in the midst of raising its minimum wage to $9 per hour by 2015, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy threw his weight behind a second increase, to $10.10 per hour, in a statement on Wednesday.
Malloy’s announcement comes just one week after President Barack Obama voiced his support for a $10.10 federal minimum wage in his State of the Union address, a rallying point for progressive politicians across the nation. The governor’s proposal, which will be announced to the legislature on Thursday, is not the first wage increase Connecticut has seen in recent years. In the summer of 2013, the Governor signed a bill that was projected to increase minimum wages by 75 cents over the course of two years, saying that workers’ wages had not kept up with the cost of living in the state.
Malloy’s new proposal would change the schedule and increase the minimum wage, currently set at $8.70 an hour, over the course of three years. The change would affect 70,000 to 90,000 workers in the state who currently earn the minimum wage, the Governor said in his statement.
“The minimum wage right now is so artificially low that people who are working full time still have to apply for government assistance programs in order to make ends meet,” said State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney. “Anybody who’s working full time ought to be able to support a family.”
Immediately after Malloy announced the plan, members of the state’s Congressional delegation, including New Haven Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 praised the governor’s action, calling him a “key ally” in a statement. Murphy and Blumenthal are both original co-sponsors of a Senate bill that seeks to raise the federal minimum wage, currently set at $7.25 an hour, to $10.10 an hour.
Politicians across the country have turned to minimum wage increases as a tool to combat income inequality; 13 states set new wage floors on Jan. 1, 2014. Connecticut’s income gap is the second highest in the nation, according to data tabulated from surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Fred Carstensen, an economics professor at University of Connecticut, said the purchasing power of workers has gone down due to a stagnant minimum wage.
“Historically, the minimum wage was for jobs at places like fast food restaurants held by teenagers or college students,” Carstensen said. “Now, though, because the job market has been so weak for so many years, there are a lot of people trying to support whole families with jobs at or near the minimum wage.”
According to a study published last December by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, the average age of workers nationally who would be affected by a change in the federal minimum wage is 35 years old. More than a quarter of workers who would see their wages increase have children.
Larry Dorman, a spokesman for the Council 4 AFSCME union, which represents 32,000 workers in Connecticut, said he applauded the governor for taking the lead on the issue of income inequality in the state. He added that, ideally, the wage should be even higher.
“The governor is concerned about the fate of working people in this state,” Dorman said. “Corporate profits are skyrocketing, and hedge fund managers and executives are doing well, but working people have fallen behind.”
Though Carstensen said he doubts the proposed wage increase would have much of an impact on Connecticut’s economy, he said Malloy’s proposal was a good idea since it would likely reduce the number of families who must now rely on Medicaid and food stamps to supplement their wages. That reduction, he said, would then lower costs to taxpayers.
Looney also said increasing the minimum wage would be economically beneficial: since low-income families operate on small margins, they would spend the additional money on necessities. This would put the money back into the economy, he said.
House Republicans, though, are suspicious that Malloy’s proposal is a political move meant to aid his bid for reelection this fall. In June 2013, 46 percent of voters polled by Quinnipiac [University?] said Governor Malloy did not deserve to be reelected.
“This announcement is not about a thoughtful public policy,” said Patt O’Neal, spokesman for the House Republicans. “This is purely election year pandering.”
O’Neal, who called increasing the minimum wage a “democratic wedge issue,” said the House Republicans put out a proposal 10 days ago including “targeted tax relief” to consumers and businesses. He said Malloy’s announcement will not affect Republicans’ chances at winning the gubernatorial election in 2014.
Republican State Senator Rob Kane, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said the state Republicans’ plan going forward was to “educate people” on the cost of increasing the minimum wage.
“People don’t understand the full ramifications of these proposals,” Kane said, adding that increasing the minimum wage will cause costs to rise for small businesses. “It’s going to hurt the very people it’s trying to help because less people will get hired.”
Kane, like O’Neal, said Republicans remain optimistic about the fall elections.
Gary Rose, a political commentator from Sacred Heart University, said he thinks Republican opposition to the proposal will hurt their chances in November.
“Quite frankly, though,” he added, “A lot of people who make minimum wage don’t vote.”
When the Connecticut Legislature first proposed in 2013 to raise the minimum wage to $9 per hour, 75 percent of state residents expressed support in a March 2013 Quinnipiac poll.