Connecticut’s tug-of-war over poverty
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.