Con­necti­cut’s tug-of-war over poverty

The News-Times - - OPINION -

The Con­necti­cut House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ all-nighter un­der­scores just how much ef­fort some elected of­fi­cials will put into keep­ing the work­ing poor im­pov­er­ished. From 10 p.m. Wed­nes­day un­til noon Thurs­day, Repub­li­cans made re­lent­less pitches to di­lute or thwart leg­is­la­tion to raise the min­i­mum wage to $15 over four years.

The ma­jor­ity Democrats pre­vailed in this Hartford blood­sport, leav­ing their coun­ter­parts ex­as­per­ated as the bill ad­vanced to the next round of bat­tle in the Se­nate.

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Themis Klar­ides voiced her party’s frus­tra­tion. “There will be less peo­ple work­ing. How is that help­ing peo­ple? I don’t un­der­stand it. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Such rea­son­ing doesn’t make sense to us. Maybe it’s be­cause we’ve heard it be­fore, when for­mer Gov. Dan­nel Mal­loy raised the min­i­mum wage to its cur­rent $10.10.

This pro­posal would hike wages to $11 in Oc­to­ber,

$12 one year later, $13 on Aug. 1, 2021, $14 on July 1,

2022 and $15 on June 1, 2023. High school stu­dents would re­ceive 85 per­cent of those wages for summer gigs, though they would be­come el­i­gi­ble for the full

min­i­mum af­ter 90 days.

If an an­nual salary of $31,200 seems overly gen­er­ous to Repub­li­cans, we’re left to won­der what fig­ure they would choose if granted a magic wand in­stead of a mi­nor­ity vote.

Would it be­come $7.25, as it is in Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Ken­tucky, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ok­la­homa, Penn­syl­va­nia, Texas, Utah, Vir­ginia and Wisconsin?

Maybe we should drop to $5.15, the stan­dard in Ge­or­gia and Wy­oming.

Or per­haps we shouldn’t have one, like Louisiana, Mis­sis­sippi and Alabama, which also have the high­est poverty rates in the United States.

Ar­eas more sim­i­lar to Con­necti­cut have set their course to a $15 min­i­mum wage, in­clud­ing Wash­ing­ton, D.C., by 2020, Cal­i­for­nia by 2022, Mas­sachusetts by 2023, New Jersey and Mary­land by 2024, Illi­nois by 2025 and New York some­time af­ter 2020.

This show­down in Con­necti­cut fol­lows a pre­dictable

script. Repub­li­cans see a raise as crush­ing for small busi­nesses and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. Democrats lean on the con­cept that pay­ing more to 330,000 res­i­dents earn­ing the min­i­mum will pour money back into the state econ­omy.

This de­bate should be over hu­man­ity. The poverty level for a house­hold of four is an an­nual in­come of $25,750. A full-time worker pulling in $10.10 an hour brings home $21,008 a year. How many jobs should that per­son have to work to feed a fam­ily?

At $15 an hour that an­nual in­come would in­crease to $31,200. Of course, the tide of the poverty line will rise with it. These are the peo­ple who work Me­mo­rial Day, Thanks­giv­ing and, yes, Labor Day.

Dur­ing a ses­sion with mat­ters as po­lar­iz­ing as tolls and the le­gal­iza­tion of recre­ational mar­i­juana, it is the pay­check that in­spired this epic night in the Capi­tol.

This brand of fight de­fines and di­vides Amer­ica. When we re­sist pay­ing hu­mane wages, our lofty legacy as a land of op­por­tu­nity is di­min­ished to myth.

Per­haps we shouldn’t have (a min­i­mum wage), like Louisiana, Mis­sis­sippi and Alabama, which also have the high­est poverty rates in the United States.

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