Hartford — Some Connecticut officials on Monday hailed the coming increase in the state’s minimum wage as a step toward possibly requiring a so-called living wage in the state.
During a state Capitol news conference to remind residents the minimum wage will rise Wednesday, state Sen. Catherine Osten, a Democrat from Sprague, said the impending increase “is just a beginning step for us to get low-wage workers to a living wage.”
The wage rate will go from $8.25 to $8.70 per hour next year and to $9 an hour on Jan. 1, 2015. After the news conference, Osten said she would ultimately like to see a $15-an-hour wage in place for people who need to financially support themselves and their families. She acknowledged that level isn’t necessary for everyone.
“I don’t think high school students working for gas money need to have a family-supporting wage,” said Osten.
Department of Labor Commissioner Sharon Palmer agreed that more needs to be done to increase wages for people trying to support themselves and their families on minimum-wage jobs in Connecticut.
“We should make every effort that we can to begin to get them toward a living wage. That’s what they need,” Palmer said, adding, “let’s hope we can continue that effort.”
Connecticut and 12 other states — Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — are scheduled to raise their minimum wages on New Year’s Day, affecting more than 2.5 million workers, according to the National Employment Law Project. In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy estimated 70,000 to 90,000 of the state’s 1.7 million-member workforce will be affected.
Of those 13 states, the National Employment Law Project said three will have minimum wages higher than Connecticut’s on Jan. 1: Washington at $9.32 an hour, Oregon at $9.10 and Vermont at $8.73.
Andrew Markowski, the Connecticut director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said he’s not surprised there’s interest in raising the state’s minimum beyond $9.
“We’ve heard it over the years from advocates. But if the state of Connecticut really wants to focus on improving the quality of life for employees and their families, then artificially raising wages on employers is not the way to go,” he said. “What the state needs is comprehensive tax reform, fewer regulations and mandates on employers and lower energy costs. These are all of the things that are making Connecticut uncompetitive right now.”
Malloy made a point on Monday to say that Connecticut was taking a “balanced approach” to helping workers without adversely impacting the businesses community by spreading out the increase over two years. When asked about what he thought a living wage would be in Connecticut, Malloy didn’t provide a figure, saying there is disagreement on how it should be calculated and how it can depend on whether someone has children.
“We need to be about the business of raising wages, generally speaking, and certainly raising the minimum wage,” said Malloy, adding how he supports increasing the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to $10.
But Markowski stressed that higher minimum wages ultimately lead to higher costs for businesses owners, who now have to spend more in workers compensation, unemployment and Social Security payments. Besides that, he said business owners also have to worry about higher health insurance costs.
“It’s just that constant compounding effect,” he said.