More than 330,000 low-wage workers in Connecticut are about to get a raise.
Just before sunrise Friday, state senators passed a bill that will raise the minimum wage from $10.10 to $15 an hour over the next five years. The bill now heads to Gov. Ned Lamont, who has promised to sign it. Once he does, Connecticut will be the seventh state to adopt a $15 minimum wage, and the fourth one this year.
“Our movement is gaining momentum,” Joseph Franklin, a McDonald’s worker in Hartford said Friday in a statement to Vox. “By joining together, speaking up, and going on strike, workers like me have turned $15 from dream to reality for millions of workers across the country.”
Fast-food workers with the “Fight for $15” movement have pushed lawmakers across the country to raise wages for America’s lowest-paid workers, and it’s finally paying off. More than 30 percent of US workers now live in states that are raising minimum pay to $15 an hour, according to the National Employment Law Project.
In February, New Jersey and Illinois hiked their pay floors to $15. A month later, Maryland lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto to pass its own $15 wage bill.
Senators in Connecticut debated the newest minimum-wage bill late into the night Thursday, and passed it easily with a 21-14 vote at 2:45 am Friday.
“The American dream for too many people in my generation is slipping away and there is one reason for that. It’s not because the economy isn’t growing. It’s because wages haven’t caught up with growth,” Democratic state Sen. Matt Lesser said before the vote.
The new law would start with a 90-cent increase to the current $10.10 minimum pay rate in October, adding up to an extra $1,872 a year for full-time workers at the bottom of the income ladder.
A $15 minimum wage is quickly gaining support across the country, even in Congress and in the 2020 presidential race. For the first time ever, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are considering a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour — another sign that the public pressure is paying off.
It all started with frustrated McDonald’s workers in Illinois and New York
Passing the $15 minimum wage bill is a major win for the fast-food workers whose movement helped 5 million workers get pay raises in 2019.
Within five years, they’ve transformed an improbable proposal into a popular policy — one that would address, in part, the slow wage growth American workers are experiencing.
The workers’ movement, called “Fight for $15,” organized strikes and rallies all across the country. But they saw little success until 2016, when California became the first state to hike hourly wages to $15, followed by Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, DC.
Business groups are not happy about the fight for $15. And neither are their Republican allies in Congress. They’ve long pushed back against any effort to raise the wage floor at the federal level, claiming it would destroy small businesses and trigger massive job losses.
It’s getting harder and harder for Republicans to justify their view that free-market capitalism will take care of everyone. Their belief is that when the economy grows and unemployment is low, employers will be forced to raise wages. But even workers who already earn $15 an hour struggle to raise a family, so it’s no wonder that workers who earn less sometimes end up living on the streets.
On top of this, Americans want the government to raise the minimum wage. Poll after poll shows widespread support, even among Republican voters. And a majority of voters want the minimum increased to $15 an hour. That may explain why Thomas Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, recently toned down his usual criticism of efforts to raise the minimum wage, saying the chamber is “going to listen.”
Even McDonald’s, long criticized by labor activists for paying low wages at franchises, said in March that the company would no longer lobby against minimum wage hikes.
The idea that raising the minimum wage is actually bad for workers is getting harder to support, as a growing body of research discrediting that claim continues to emerge.
What research says about raising the minimum wage
There are few topics US economists have researched more than the impact of raising a minimum wage. Their findings have varied over the past 30 years, but there are two things most mainstream economists now agree on.
First, they agree that raising the minimum wage increases the average income of low-wage workers, lifting many out of poverty (depending on how big the raise is). Second, raising the minimum wage likely causes some job losses.
The remaining disagreement revolves around how extreme the job cuts would be.
Some research suggests hundreds of thousands of American workers could lose their jobs with a modest increase to the minimum wage. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist at the conservative American Action Forum, has pointed to a 2014 study from the Congressional Budget Office which estimates that a $10.10 federal wage floor could lead to about 500,000 lost jobs because higher labor costs would lead some employers to scale back their staff.
Other research concludes that increasing the minimum wage has an insignificant impact on employment, or none at all.
The best way to evaluate the different conclusions is to analyze all the research findings together — what scientists call a “meta-analysis.” And the most recent ones suggest that the most likely impact on employment is minimal.
For example, a 2016 study by economists at Michigan State University crunched data from 60 research studies on the minimum wage in the United States since 2001. They concluded that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage would likely reduce employment among low-wage workers from 0.5 percent to 1.2 percent.
Another meta-analysis comes in the form of a new research paper by economists at the University of Massachusetts, University College London, and the Economic Policy Institute. They studied data from 138 cities and states that raised the minimum wage between 1979 and 2016. The conclusion is that low-wage workers received a 7 percent pay bump after a minimum wage law went into effect, but there was little or no change in employment.
In a 2018 working paper, soon to be published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, economist Arindrajit Dube shows that raising the minimum wage significantly reduces the number of families living in poverty. For example, he concludes that a $12 minimum wage in 2017 would have lifted 6.2 million people out of poverty.
This growing body of research has helped lawmakers across the country argue for a $15 minimum wage. Connecticut workers are the latest to win their case.