A group of New England governors, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, are teaming up to prove that increasing the minimum wage as a region will have a positive impact on the economy.
In a White House conference call Sunday, two of the three New England governors who will join Malloy and President Barack Obama to promote an increase in the minimum wage at Central Connecticut State University on Wednesday discussed the benefits of increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
“The most damning statistic that I’ve heard of late is not just 55 percent of minimum wage earners are women — and that’s estimated to be even higher in Connecticut — but that 13 percent of the individuals who earn the minimum wage in the United States are 55 years or older,” Malloy said. “In fact, more people over the age of 55 earn the minimum wage than teenagers.”
Malloy was citing statistics from the Congressional Budget Office report released last month that also concluded an increase in the minimum wage would cost 500,000 Americans their jobs.
“What the president understands and what we understand is that this economic recovery is leaving too many middle class and working Americans behind,” Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said. “The president has it absolutely right when he says if we can raise the minimum wage we can ensure that no one in our states or in our nation works 40 or 50 hour week and remains living in poverty, often on government assistance.”
Shumlin said during a meeting with Democratic governors at the White House last week that they discussed the value of “regions of governors working together to raise the minimum wage to help working Americans.”
He said there are states fearful of raising the minimum wage because other states around them might not.
“We have a real opportunity to do the right thing for our states,” Shumlin said. “The right thing for the middle class and working Americans, and to get this right as a region if we have enough governors participate.”
Shumlin said Vermont has a plan to increase its minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over the next three years. That’s similar to the legislation proposed in Connecticut, which would increase the minimum wage to that same level over the same period of time.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who was on the conference call Sunday with the governors, tried to paint an increase in the minimum wage as a bipartisan issue. He said the last time the minimum wage was increased was back in 2007 under former President George W. Bush.
“There clearly has been a history of bipartisan support for raising the minimum wage in the past,” Earnest said. “And there should be strong bipartisan support for it now.”
Shumlin said raising the minimum wage is a policy choice that should be made on a bipartisan basis even though the reality is that’s not the case.
“I don’t think there’s an American who believes you should be working 40 to 50 hours a week and be living in poverty,” Shumlin said. “That does not meet anyone’s sense of justice or fairness.”
But Democrats both in Connecticut and nationally have begun to make a hike in the minimum wage, a campaign issue. The increasing partisan nature of the issue was highlighted last week with the exchange between Malloy and Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.
“Republicans have been against this from the very get-go,” Malloy said. “Even back to last year’s discussion about trying to get any raise at all, so let’s be very clear it’s not Democrats who have made this a partisan issue, it’s Republicans.”
He said he thinks a group of Republicans “have wrongly painted themselves into a corner.” He said some of the Republicans in Congress voted for an increase in 2007 under a Republican president, but now are automatically against it because the president is a Democrat.
“Quite frankly, it’s not Democrats who are making this a partisan issue,” Malloy said.
Malloy has not announced yet whether he’s seeking re-election, but he’s expected to say he’s running after May 7 — the end of the legislative session.
Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, the independent-turned-Democrat who is not seeking re-election next year, said he doesn’t believe it’s a partisan issue. “I see this as a broader issue of standing up for the middle class and this is just one component of doing that,” he said.
With the Tea Party taking over the Republican Party in Congress “you see that the Republican Party is not there for the middle class,” he added.
Chafee, Shumlin, Malloy, and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick will join Obama at CCSU Wednesday, March 5, for a rally to increase the minimum wage.