A progressive advocacy group released a report Tuesday that said a $15 minimum wage isn’t sufficient in a state where adult employees need to make $19.03 per hour to cover basic needs.
The group, Alliance For a Just Society, is an organization focused on health and social justice. Its annual report details the living wage for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. It found that the hourly wage a single worker must earn in order to live without public assistance and to be able to deal with emergencies exceeds $15 in 35 states and Washington, D.C.
At $9.15 an hour, Connecticut’s current minimum wage is matched by Vermont and exceeded only by Oregon and the District of Columbia. But the state’s high cost of living means a single, minimum-wage worker must put in 83.2 hours a week to cover the basics, according to the report.
The state minimum wage will increase to $9.60 on Jan. 1, 2016, and then to $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2017. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed the groundbreaking measure into law in 2014, earning a phone call from Vice President Joe Biden to thank him for paving the way for other states.
But according to the Alliance For a Just Society’s report, that’s not good enough — and neither is the $15 minimum wage being promoted across the state and country in a movement known as the Fight For $15.
“Working full-time should ensure financial stability. To make that happen, it’s time to move beyond $15 per hour,” Allyson Fredericksen, the report’s author, wrote.
Legislation in the General Assembly to impose a fee on large corporations that don’t pay their employees at least $15 an hour failed in committee during this year’s session. The bill sought to charge big corporations like Wal-Mart $1 per hour for each employee paid $15 per hour or less to offset the costs of social services for those workers.
The legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated the bill would cover about 146,710 of the 743,328 employees who work for companies with at least 500 employees in Connecticut, with a potential revenue gain to the state of up to $152.6 million in 2016 and $305.1 million in future years.
An April policy brief from the conservative Yankee Institute said the large companies affected by the bill would be more likely to pay the tax than to raise their workers’ wages, and suggested that it would mean costs would go up for items and services those companies provide, and their low-wage workers would remain especially ill-equipped to absorb the price increases.
“These higher costs will hurt every consumer in Connecticut, but they will hurt the poorest residents — the people who these bills supposedly help — most of all,” the policy brief said.
But Labor Committee Co-Chairman Peter Tercyak, a Democratic state representative from New Britain, said the tighter the fiscal constraints get at the state level, the more support there is among state residents to force employers to offer a higher minimum wage.
“I have already been getting calls to bring back the McWalmart bill by people who are outraged by the cuts to Medicaid that are hurting our hospitals and community providers,” he said.
Citing the decline of the middle class at the hands of the nation’s wealthiest businessmen, he said the economic picture for many Americans is bleak. Earnings should be shared with workers, according to Tercyak, in the name of both fairness and productivity.
Right now, “we haven’t incentivized anything except bare bones survival,” he said.
While organizers with the Fight for $15 movement weren’t successful in getting an increase in wages this year, they were able to get the legislature to create a 13-member board that will investigate “the causes and effects of businesses paying low wages to residents of the state,” and to review how many workers are receiving public assistance. The language creating the Low Wage Employer Advisory Board was included in the budget implementer that passed during the special session.
According to the report, a single adult would need to make $19.03 per hour in Connecticut to meet basic needs and to save for emergencies. A single parent with a school-aged child would need to make $28.99 per hour.
The study’s calculations are based on a family budget that includes basic necessities such as food, housing, utilities, transportation, health care, clothing and other personal items, savings, and state and federal taxes.
Throw childcare into the mix and the demand on parents’ wallets goes up even more. Two parents working full time to provide for their toddler and a school-aged child would need to make $25.11 per hour each. A single adult with a toddler and a school-aged child would need to make $40.89 per hour.
Ann Pratt, the Connecticut Citizens Action Group’s director of organizing, said the study puts real numbers to the experience of those who work full time, or more, but remain trapped in poverty.
“Being forced to work an astonishing 83.2 hours per week just to make ends meet is both unrealistic and unjust,” Pratt said.
Advocates for a wage hike say that everyone should be given the opportunity to earn a livable minimum wage, thus increasing jobs and stimulating the economy, while opponents argue that a threshold spike would eliminate jobs and raise product prices.
A study released in April by the National Employment Labor Project found that a third of the workers in the state earn less than $15 per hour. This means Connecticut’s is the lowest percentage of workers under the wage ceiling, with the exception of Washington, D.C.
The average number of workers under the $15 threshold nationwide is 42 percent, the report states.
Another report released in April through the Connecticut Association of Human Services found that low-wage workers in Connecticut access $486 million in public assistance annually.