The Connecticut State Legislature approved the highest minimum wage of any state in the country on Wednesday evening, putting Gov. Dannel Malloy in the national spotlight.
The Governor proposed the bill, which will gradually raise the minimum wage to $10.10 from its current rate of $8.70 over the next three years, in early February after President Barack Obama voiced support for a raise of the federal minimum wage in his State of the Union address. The bill had gained national attention over the past month, particularly after a visit by the President to New Britain, CT advocating for minimum wage legislation.
“I commend Governor Malloy for his leadership,” Obama said in a statement Wednesday. “I hope Members of Congress, governors, state legislators and business leaders across our country will follow Connecticut’s lead to help ensure that no American who works full time has to raise a family in poverty, and that every American who works hard has the chance to get ahead.”
After passing through the Appropriations Committee, the bill cleared the Senate 21–14, a party-line vote with the exception of one Democrat who voted against it, and the House 89–53.
The Governor will sign the bill into law on Thursday evening, according to a press release from the Governor’s office.
“We wanted to move the bill quickly to free it from late-in-the-session pressures where it could get filibustered,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, who added that democrats felt “a great deal of gratification” at the bill’s passage.
Before the vote, House republicans expressed concern on the House floor, pointing to the cost of increasing wages and questioning why the minimum wage had to be raised higher than the initial hike last year that pledged to raise it to $9 by 2015.
Republican Representative Prasad Srinivasan testified to the House that his experience as a small business owner showed him that the minimum wage increase will be harmful to businesses.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our state,” he said. “Every analysis across the country has showed that increasing the minimum wage will result in a net loss of jobs.”
Srinivasan added that the state should invest in job training to raise the skills of the workforce instead of raising wages.
However, data from the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think-tank, showed a federal minimum wage increase to $10.10 would result in 140,000 new jobs.
Several other Republican senators and representatives could not be reached for comment.
A March 4 poll by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute showed that 71 percent of Connecticut voters supported raising the minimum wage. A majority of respondents said the minimum wage increase would help rather than hurt the economy.
The Council 4 AFSCME union, representing 32,000 workers in the state, has supported the bill since its proposal.
“It’s one step, but it’s an important step toward helping rebuild Connecticut’s sagging middle class,” said Larry Dorman, a spokesman for AFSCME.
Mayor Toni Harp voiced support for the bill as well, saying in a statement that raising the minimum wage would benefit those struggling to meet the demands of paying rent, covering utilities and providing meals.
“Beyond that, since most minimum wage earners are women, it is also a move to address a gender-based wage gap that persists in New Haven and throughout Connecticut,” she added.
Six out of every 10 minimum wage workers in Connecticut is female, according to data collected by the National Women’s Law Center.
According to data collected by the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), the minimum wage increase will affect the wages of 126,000 women in Connecticut — 16 percent of the total female workforce in the state — compared to 101,000 men.
Teresa Younger, the executive director of PCSW, said one of the key priorities of the organization is increasing the minimum wage as a means for women to get economic security.
“In Connecticut, most people who are working minimum wage jobs are women, and a significant portion are women of color,” Younger said. “Those women deserve the right to be economically secure if they’re working full time. One way to do that is increasing the minimum wage.”
In Connecticut, for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes on average 78 cents, according to Younger.
Senator Terry Gerratana, Democratic Majority Whip and the vice chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, said the legislation will make it easier for single mothers to raise children on their own. Although she said further legislation to close the wage gap will not likely be addressed in this legislative session, Gerretana said the gender gap issue is “always on the table” as a priority.
A study released by the White House predicts that raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 would close the wage gap by around 5 percent.
Younger said it would take more to close the wage gap further, including increasing child care support, making work places family-friendly with paid leave time and tying the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) so it adjusts to inflation.
Gerretana said her colleagues have discussed tying the minimum wage to the CPI but said “at this time, the governor’s proposal is what we thought was appropriate.”
Claire Criscuolo, the owner of Claire’s Corner Copia, said she supports the minimum wage increase.
“I think it’s important we create an environment where people can succeed, and they can’t succeed if they can’t pay their mortgage or their telephone bill,” Criscuolo said, who pays employees higher than the minimum wage. “What breaks my heart is people having to live on wages that are impossible to live on.”
Criscuolo once gifted six months worth of diapers to one of her female employees, who estimated that diapers cost her $10 a day for one child. She added that being known for supporting her 35 employees has only helped business, and that although raising the minimum wage might make things a little more difficult, the fact that the increases are spread over three years will make it easier.
Even $10 an hour, she said, is often “too low to get by.”
PCSW recently contracted researchers to develop a report that could determine what wage is needed to be self-sufficient in Connecticut. The resulting Family Economic Self Sufficiency Standard (FESS) calculated a wage of $10.56 an hour, just above the Governor’s standard.
Gerretana said she saw the study and would have also supported a bill with a wage raise to $10.56 as well.
In the Quinnipiac poll, 20 percent of respondents voiced support for a minimum wage higher than $10.10 per hour.
After the bill’s passage, U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who represents New Haven, joined the rest of the state’s House delegation in calling on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by supporting the Fair Minimum Wage Act.
The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25.