Christine Stuart photo
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez might as well have been preaching to the choir Monday when he visited Hartford to promote an increase in the minimum wage.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed an increase of the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over the next three years, and U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal are both proponents of President Barack Obama’s initiative to do the same. The rest of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation also is on board with increasing the minimum wage, so why would Perez waste his time in Connecticut?

“These stories are compelling. We need to make sure we leave no person behind,” Perez said at a press conference following a round table discussion with four Connecticut residents who earn the minimum wage.

Christine Stuart photo
Suejournel Durham, Josh Griffin, Kevin Burgos, and Rhashim Campbell all shared their stories of working at minimum wage jobs and how they have to shuffle paying the bills in order to live paycheck to paycheck.

Murphy reminded the audience that a family of two living on the minimum wage is making $16,000 a year.

“Try living on $16,000 a year in the state of Connecticut,” Murphy said. “If you live and Hartford and don’t have a rent subsidy, your rent is likely to gobble up $10,000 of that $16,000.”

He said the movement to increase the minimum wage is an effort to restore the dignity and respect to families who are working harder than ever and deserve to be compensated for that work.

Perez said he’s confident that business leaders are going to look back at $10.10 an hour and “it’s going to look pretty modest.”

Douglas Wade president of Wade’s Dairy in Bridgeport said he has 48 employees he considers to be his family. He said he supports an increase in the minimum wage.

“The middle class is just getting eviscerated by wages that have not kept pace,” Wade said.

But there are others in Wade’s community who don’t support an increase.

Richard DeJesus, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Bridgeport, told CTLatinoNews that he can’t support such a steep increase in the minimum wage.

The current minimum wage in Connecticut is $8.70 an hour. That will increase to $9 an hour in January 2015, if the legislature doesn’t take action this year to phase in an increase to $10.10 an hour by 2017.

DeJesus said the chamber will be looking into how a $10.10 increase will affect businesses when it comes to all the factors that go along with a wage increase, such as having to pay more for insurance and unemployment taxes.

“The last time it increased was different. This is a substantial raise,” DeJesus told CTLatinoNews.

Jerry Brick, general manager of Lake Compounce Amusement Park, said last week that he doesn’t support an increase in the minimum wage because it would increase his costs.

During an average week in the summer of 2013 his employees worked an average of 23,440 hours. An increase in the the minimum wage by 25 cents would increase weekly payroll by $5,860.

“Spiraling minimum wages are not the solution to fixing issues at the local or state level,” Brick wrote in his testimony to the Labor and Public Employees Committee. “Each increase does have a negative impact on business.”

Eric Gjede, assistant counsel at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, told the Labor and Public Employees Committee last week that data shows individuals earning the minimum wage are “teens that live at home with one or more guardians, single individuals with no dependents, or individuals that hold a part-time job for the purpose of supplementing another income.”

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office released a report on an increase in the minimum wage and its conclusions were mixed. It found that going to $10.10 an hour could reduce total employment by 500,000 workers by the second half of 2016. However, it would lift 900,000 families out of poverty and increase the incomes of 16.5 million workers.

One of the notions that the CBO debunks is “that this issue of minimum wage is simply an issue for teenagers,” Perez said. “They again confirm what we know from the data, I think it was 10 to 12 percent of minimum wage workers are teenagers, the average age of a minimum wage worker is actually 35.”
The CBO report found that “of the 5.5 million workers who earned within 25 cents of the minimum wage in 2013, three-quarters were at least 20 years old and two-fifths worked full time.”

Perez said the CBO didn’t do a study of its own on the minimum wage and it didn’t look at studies done across the country that show a minimum wage increase has little to no detrimental impact on job loss. “There’s some relative overwhelming evidence-base suggesting that you can put money in people’s pockets, help businesses recruit more customers, and not have an impact.”