Recently, the Appropriations Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly took a strong step toward growing and strengthening the wages of Connecticut's lowest-wage earners by voting to increase the state's minimum wage. In doing so, the committee also took a stand for women, as women are disproportionately impacted by a low minimum wage.
According to the National Women's Law Center, six in 10 of the 106,000 minimum-wage workers in Connecticut are women; many of them are mothers and heads of households. Any Connecticut citizen working full time at minimum wage lives below the poverty line. But for a single mother, $16,500 per year is less than half the living wage in Connecticut (the living wage is the cost of housing, food and transportation per household.)
During testimony in favor of the increased minimum wage, University of Massachusetts economist Jeanette Wicks-Lim showed that Connecticut's current proposed increase of $9.75 would not negatively impact businesses or result in job losses. According to Wicks-Lim, the average business could cover the cost of an increased minimum wage by raising their prices by two-tenths of 1 percent, or to put it simply, by raising the cost of a $20 item by four pennies.
Mothers, caretakers, nurturers and providers are both on the front lines of our workforce and the backbone of our households. These women are worth a 4-cent increase on a pizza delivery, two tickets to a movie or a pair of summer shorts. An increase in pay for women puts money right back on Main Street, allowing families the ability to build stability and save for their children's futures.
Each year, the minimum wage has lost ground on the cost of living. Since its peak in 1968, low-wage workers have effectively taken a pay cut each time inflation forced the cost of living up. As the economy continues to shift toward low¿wage jobs, we must be vigilant and ensure that workers do not continue to fall behind.
Low-wage workers who have had minimal or no pay raises over the years have felt their purchasing power dwindle. If the minimum wage kept pace with inflation, that $16,000 today would be about $21,000 in 2013 dollars. That's why, in addition to raising the minimum wage, any legislation passed needs to ensure that the minimum wage automatically adjusts each year to keep up with the cost of living.
Big-box retailers, national casual dining restaurants and fast-food chains have expanded their establishments and profits by employing scores of women at legal wage minimums. Many in the business community have historically opposed minimum wage increases, fearing the worst if they are forced to pay employees any more.
But according to a 2012 National Employment Law Project report, the 50 largest employers of low-wage workers are now in a stronger financial position than before the recession: 92 percent were profitable last year, 75 percent have higher revenues and 73 percent have higher cash holdings. Executive compensation averaged $9.4 million last year at these firms.
Voting for or against bills that any constituent group — individual, family, business or otherwise — believes will negatively affect them is not an easy decision. But we cannot continue to have full-time workers living well below the poverty line.
We're reminded of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act of 2009. These pieces of legislation were drafted and passed to regulate, strengthen and protect the right of a woman to receive fair and equal pay for equal work. Even with these acts in place, women still only earn about 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.
While increasing the minimum wage will not recover every cent lost to the gender wage gap, it is a step in closing it. An increased minimum wage will also send a message to our state's working families that we, as legislators, understand and are willing to fight for Connecticut's lowest-paid working women, because they deserve better.
State Sen. Cathy Osten is a Democrat from Sprague. She's Senate chairwoman of the Labor Committee, where the minimum-wage bill originated. State Reps. Toni Walker and Mae Flexer are Democrats from New Haven and Killingly, respectively. Ms. Walker is house chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee. Ms. Flexer is House vice chairwoman of Appropriations.Copyright © 2015, CT Now