By Adam Benson
NORWICH — Even working two jobs, Sharon Giammarco is barely scraping by.
“The more I grow, the harder it is,” said Giammarco, an employee at Norwich’s Reliance House. “I’m all for putting in hard work and doing what I need to do, but that’s the fear of some people: If I do better, I’ll lose the help I’m getting.”
But even if she made more money, chances are Giammarco would still be compensated far below her male counterparts, according to a 2013 report by the state’s Gender Wage Gap Task Force that found Connecticut women making 75.8 to 78 cents for every dollar a man earns.
“There’s a perception that most minimum wage workers are young people just starting out and we need to work hard to change that perception,” state Department of Labor Commissioner Sharon Palmer said Thursday during a round table discussion about women and the minimum wage at Norwich City Hall. “More than the majority are women and we found that the low-wage workers are more equal than the high-wage workers, so there’s equal opportunity to earn low wages.”
As President Barack Obama pressures lawmakers across America to increase the minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour, he has found a strong ally in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other Connecticut Democrats who aim to implement first what would be the highest starting wage in the country.
“These people they’ve giving the minimum wage to aren’t going to take their money and store it in a foreign country. What they’re going to do is reinvest locally. They’re going to pay some bills, or put it back into the system,” said Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who attended Thursday’s panel discussion sponsored by the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. “Giving dignity back to people who are on the minimum wage is really important.”
Thursday’s event came days after U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez visited Connecticut to support an increase to the minimum wage, and Obama plans a stop in the state next week for a “Raise the Wage” rally, the White House said Wednesday.
Women are particularly affected by changes to the minimum wage, since many have children or are primary caregivers for disabled relatives, panelists said Thursday.
“The minimum wage does hit women more than it does men and not only that, it hits children because women who are earning minimum wage are often raising children on that same minimum wage, which impacts families dramatically,” state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said.
According to the task force’s 2013 study, the ratio of female to male annual earnings is just 62.6 percent in New London County, and 71.9 percent in Windham County.
In the first quarter of 2012, women in the finance and insurance industry earned $11,636 less than males — a 61.6 percent difference, the task force reported.