Christine Stuart photo
James Bhandary-Alexander, chairman of the Low Wage Advisory Board (Christine Stuart photo)

HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut’s Low Wage Advisory Board is recommending that the General Assembly approve an increase in Connecticut’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022.

The board created by the legislature in 2015 to study the circumstances, issues and effects related to low-wage work in Connecticut voted in favor of gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next five years. After reaching $15 an hour, the board is recommending in its 40-page report, that it be indexed to inflation.

One of the central concepts that seemed to unite everyone on the board was “the concern that people who work full-time should not be living in poverty,” James Bhandary-Alexander, chairman of the advisory board, said.

What a majority of the board found was that a gradual rise in the minimum wage “both reduces poverty and puts money in the hands and the pockets of low-wage workers who will spend it right here in Connecticut and will not have any negative effect on job growth in the state,” Bhandary-Alexander said Thursday at a Legislative Office Building press conference.

Elaine Brown, a Bridgeport home care worker who makes $13 an hour helping her client with cerebral palsy, said she works a second job at a home for homeless veterans. But she said that between those two jobs she still can’t seem to find enough money for rent.

A former Army medic, Brown said she’s living at the Women’s House for Veterans to avoid paying rent, but is moving into her own apartment soon. She said she’s afraid she won’t be able to keep up with the rent.

“Even though I’m 52 years old, I am still forced to rely on the financial support of my family,” Brown said.

She said $15 an hour would add significantly to her quality of life. She said it’s a moral issue.

Christine Stuart photo
Elaine Brown of Bridgeport talks about her struggles as a low wage employee (Christine Stuart photo)

But organizations like the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and the National Federation of Independent Business say increasing the minimum wage would be economically disastrous and irresponsible.

Eric Gjede, assistant counsel at CBIA, said Connecticut has had an increase in the minimum wage for the last three years. He said there’s another one scheduled for January 2017 that will bring it up to $10.10 an hour.

He said over the last four months Connecticut has lost jobs and has the second high unemployment rate in New England. He said the legislature should just stop and not do anything this year that would impact the business climate in the state.

But it’s one of the few issues lawmakers will be able to deal with this year without having to consider the $1.5 billion state budget deficit.

Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, said this is one of those areas where lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can find agreement.

He said it might be a little bit more difficult now “because it seems a little easier to be strident,” but he’s hopeful.

“This is a safe place to be going,” Tercyak said. “I expect people on both sides of the aisle to recognize that.”

A spokeswoman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he’s looking forward to the debate.

“Governor Malloy firmly believes we need to make the minimum wage a livable wage and is proud to have been the first governor to sign legislation raising Connecticut’s minimum wage to $10.10 — set to go into effect this coming year,” Meg Green said. “Further increases in the minimum wage will require a thoughtful analysis and the input of the General Assembly, as well as stakeholders across the state, and he looks forward to taking part in the debate.”

Bhandary-Alexander said part of the board’s goal was to strip away assumptions about the minimum wage and drill down on the actual facts.

“There’s no example in the history of minimum wage increases where it’s been an economic disaster,” Bhandary-Alexander said. “There are very few examples and there have been thousands of examples of minimum wage increases across the states.”

Andrew Markowski, Connecticut state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said it’s unfortunate that those calling for an increase to the minimum wage will be hurt by the proposal.

“Those that are calling for $15-an-hour are failing to comprehend that at that rate, entry level jobs will dry up and employment options for unskilled workers will be sparse,” Markowski said.

Bhandary-Alexander said if the minimum wage increase actually hurt the people he represents as an attorney with New Haven Legal Assistance, then he would not have voted for it.

“It’s just is not true,” he said.

Over the past 10 months, the board heard and considered a broad range of arguments and studies about the economic impact of a $15 minimum wage and found “credible economic research” in support of boosting the salaries of fast food workers, child and home care workers, and janitors.

And while they weren’t able to offer any numbers, Stanley McMillen, an advisory board member and economics professor, said the reliance on some of the 14 state and 79 federal public assistance programs will decrease with an increase in the minimum wage.

McMillen said the state will also see an increase in income and sales tax as a result of the increase in wages.