Connecticut’s minimum wage rose from $9.60 to $10.10 on Jan. 1. It was the last of three incremental increases stipulated by a 2014 bill signed into law by Gov. Dannel Malloy aiming to promote wages, according to a release from his office.
The law was the first in the country to implement a state-mandated $10.10 per hour wage floor and was commended at the time by President Barack Obama, who proposed the same rate in his 2014 State of the Union Address. The legislation mandated two preceding hikes in the minimum wage before this year’s 50 cent increase: in January 2015, an increase from $8.70 to $9.15 an hour, and in January 2016 an increase from $9.15 to $9.60 an hour. Before those increases, Malloy had already approved a 2013 act that scheduled a bump in the then $8.25 wage floor to $9.00 over a period of two years.
“No one who works full-time should live in poverty,” Malloy said in a Dec. 27 press release. “We believe hardworking men and women, many of whom are supporting families, deserve fair wages.”
The move met the hard opposition of Republicans in the state Senate, all of whom voted against the bill at the time.
But Senate Democrats, who almost unanimously supported the bill, say the recent rise in the minimum wage is not enough. Shortly after this year’s final jump to $10.10, Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, introduced a bill that would increase Connecticut’s minimum wage to $15 per hour in five year increments by 2023.
Looney told the News that he sees the bill as a valuable measure to increase buying power of lower wage workers but acknowledged the difficulty in passing the legislation given that the State Senate is currently split evenly between the Democratic and Republican parties.
“It’ll be a challenge, but I think it’s worth pursuing,” Looney said.
Currently, Massachusetts and Washington have the highest wage floors at $11 per hour. California, New York and Washington D.C. have enacted legislation to raise the floor to $15 over the next years. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour.
Some labor advocacy groups say Connecticut’s recently completed wage hikes and the newly proposed increase hurt businesses and workers alike.
Andy Markowski, Connecticut Director of the National Federation of Independent Business, a small business advocacy organization, said the 2014 increase came at the wrong time.
“It was a dramatic increase at a time when unemployment levels were very high, especially among young people,” Markowski said. “[It] is just one more mark on Connecticut in making us appear anti-competitive for business.”
What small businesses need, he said, is deregulation and a fiscal environment in which job creators can hire more employees and pay them more, Markowski added. But he said those changes have to be market-induced rather than mandated by the government.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state’s unemployment rate in March 2014 was 6.9 percent and has decreased every month since June 2012. The rate currently stands at 4.4 percent as of December 2016.
Other labor activists, like those at the National Employment Law Project who brand themselves as advocating for employment rights on behalf of lower-wage workers, have praised the legislation.
“The 2014 bill benefited 200,000 Connecticut workers, who were earning below the $10.10 amount, so that was good progress at the time,” said Laura Huizar ’06 LAW ’12, a staff attorney at NELP. “But it’s also clear that cost of living in Connecticut demands a higher minimum wage for workers to make ends meet. The time is now for workers to get a raise and to be able to support their families through work.”
Mayor Toni Harp has also voiced support for legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage. According to city spokesman Laurence Grotheer, Harp has supported each and every proposal to increase Connecticut’s minimum wage.
He said that Harp has not yet reviewed Looney’s proposed bill to further raise the wage floor to $15 per hour. But at a public hearing in support of the Connecticut Fair Chance Employment Act — a February 2016 proposed bill that addresses hiring policies for applicants with criminal records — Harp said she supported the higher rate.
“I encourage you to continue your minimum wage ‘fight for 15.’ Connecticut’s legal minimum wage must allow those who earn it the chance to afford essentials in terms of housing, food and transportation,” she said. “Today’s minimum wage does not.”
Also calling for a higher rate, the Alliance for a Just Society, a national network of 15 advocacy groups focused on combating racial, social and economic inequity, published a report in October that estimated the amount needed to sustain a single adult in Connecticut to be an hourly wage of $19.03.
There is no state-mandated minimum wage in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and New Hampshire.