Low-wage workers may have a harder time making ends meet in Connecticut than in most other states across the country, according to a new report on living wages.
The report, published by the Alliance for Just Society, defines a living wage as “one that allows families to meet their basic needs … and that provides them with some ability to deal with emergencies and plan ahead.”
The report’s authors used consumer finance data from 2010 to calculate the living wage of 10 states across the country.
Connecticut’s living wage, at $19.08 per hour for a single adult without children, ranks it the highest of the 10 states measured. New York City, which was separated from the calculation of New York State’s living wage, was the only entity to outrank the Nutmeg State.
“One of the things that’s much higher in Connecticut than in other states is the cost of housing,” said Allyson Fredericksen, one of the study’s authors. “In Idaho or Montana it costs a lot less to find a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom apartment.”
The median price of homes listed in Connecticut is $275,600. This is significantly higher than the national median of $203,500.
Fredericksen also pointed out that childcare costs significantly more in Connecticut than in other states, especially the cost of childcare for a toddler. In Connecticut, the living wage for a single adult household with a toddler and a school-age child skyrockets to $40.48 an hour.
The report also highlights the discrepancy between the living wage and the minimum wage in Connecticut, pointing out that the 2013 minimum wage of $8.25 an hour provided less than half the living wage of a single adult. Even though the minimum wage is up to $8.70 this year, the report notes that this is well short of “allowing workers to move beyond living paycheck to paycheck.”
A common consensus is that lowering the living wage is an unrealistic goal.
“Connecticut and most of the northeast has a generally higher cost of living,” said State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney. “There’s just a certain institutional cost of being in the northeast.”
Rather, the solution lies in raising the minimum wage, said Renae Reese, executive director of the Connecticut Center for New Economy. “It is … important to raise worker’s wages in every way possible. As every year goes by, there are more and more people in Connecticut that are not making it.”
Looney said the issue is in the process of being addressed, referencing a law passed last spring that will raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017, making it the highest in the nation.
But, Looney added, he hopes the increase will not lead lawmakers to grow complacent.
“I think that once we reach that level we should probably be game to raise it again,” he said. “We need to have a higher minimum wage and we need to at least approach the living wage.”
While Frederickson emphasized the importance of state action to help those below the living wage, she also said that the federal government bears a share of the responsibility, both for expanding federal programs and establishing a higher national minimum wage.
The report also touches upon the impact of debt on the living wage of Connecticut citizens. For workers in debt, the living wage would be significantly greater than the number reported.
Students in Connecticut graduate with $27,816 in student loans, while the average credit card holder owes $5,617. Despite the issues at hand, Looney said he remains optimistic.
“Incrementally, we are [headed in the right direction] … between raising the minimum wage and having state-earned income tax credits for the poor,” he said.
Connecticut currently has the fifth highest state minimum wage.