By Louise Simmons
It is clear that minimum wage jobs cannot adequately support families in a state like Connecticut. The Federal Poverty Level, which is used widely in determining eligibility for various kinds of assistance, for a family of three is $20,160 and for a family of two is $16,020.
A job which pays minimum wage in Connecticut of $10.10 per hour at 40 hours per week for 52 weeks of work per year would provide $21,008. So if there is one parent and two children in a household where the parent earns minimum wage, they hover at the poverty level.
Furthermore, many minimum wage earners cannot get 40 hours per week of work even if they have more than one job, so it is often the case that they end up working in poverty. In addition to poor wages, these employers are exacerbating the wealth inequality that hurts our economy -– many of their workers have no choice but to seek government assistance and, in essence, the public is subsidizing low wage employers. Should we, as a society, stand by as these unethical practices take place?
There are a several studies across our country that examine the public cost of low wages for taxpayers. Highly regarded researchers at the University of California Berkeley and the Economic Policy Institute, to name a few, have examined this problem and conclude that by raising the minimum wage levels we can get away from the problem of low wage employers using the public assistance systems to augment their workers’ needs.
We need to consider this argument carefully and enact policies that are humane to workers and help our economy. If we increase the minimum wage, the additional buying power will go back into the economy and that is a win-win for all of us. People will be able to spend more, more taxes will be generated, the need for various of types of assistance may be reduced, and our state’s economy can begin to improve for its neediest residents.
The Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women’s report, The Self Sufficiency Standard for Connecticut 2015, estimated what it would take for families not to have to rely on public benefits and found that in Bridgeport, in order not to have to rely on public benefits in a family consisting of one adult and one preschool aged child, that household would need to have an annual income of $58,142, something many of us cannot imagine.
All over Connecticut the Self Sufficiency Standard ranges from approximately $48,000 per year in the least expensive areas to over $70,000 in some of our most expensive areas for this same size family. Some expenses depend on the age of the children – childcare is important and costly for young children, and the cost of food grows as students become teenagers.
Yet why are large, for-profit, corporations still getting away with making the public pay for the low wages they offer?
The time is now for Connecticut to join the national chorus for fair wages across the board. Empirical evidence shows that when we increase our wages, the median income goes up. It’s happening right now in Minnesota, where Gov. Mark Dayton taxed the rich and increased the minimum wage. They now have the fifth largest-growing economy in the nation.
As citizens we must take action on measures that combat wage inequality in our economy. We must work towards an economy that works for all, not just those at the top.
One day many of us will need home health care. Or we may find ourselves buying clothes at a retail store, or ordering some food at a chain restaurant. To our opponents, do you want quality service? Then, you need to support a quality wage.
Louise Simmons is a Hartford resident and Professor of Social Work at the University of Connecticut (This is her personal opinion and does not reflect any position of the university).