Minimum Wage Increase: Are We Asking The Wrong Question?


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Photo: New Haven Register – Arnold Gold
By Diane Alverio
When someone as charismatic as President Barack Obama comes to your hometown to make an eloquent case for a minimum wage increase, it’s pretty exciting. Of course, with an issue such as this, any caring person is quick to agree that raising the minimum wage is common sense. No one should earn a wage below the poverty line and the more dollars these workers make, the more they will put back into the economy.
Of course it is logical, so why does it have to be sold to us?
The president’s visit to New Britain, with four governors at his side and the expected stop at a local restaurant for the regular people photo-op, reminded me of why so many middle class folks are so cynical about government. Wonderful speeches, lots of cheering and clapping, but in the end nothing seems to really change and somehow they pay more.
Sure it was interesting, a historic moment for New Britain, great people watching for VIPs. But as I waited for Mr. Obama to speak, I looked around Kaiser Gym at Central Connecticut State University and wondered just how many hundreds of thousands, or is it millions, were spent so that the president could travel a couple of hours to make his case on the minimum wage. I also wondered who could have benefited from those same dollars — perhaps the students cheering in the stands, many of whom face tens of thousands of dollars in student loans?
Many have said this before: Our federal and state governments should have enough dollars. Middle class taxpayers have carried their load dutifully. The question is not if someone deserves a wage they could live on, but rather how can we spend our existing dollars more wisely and equitably to truly address the issues that improve the quality of life for all?
Government inefficiency is not a new topic and I’m not suggesting the president should have caught a cab to CCSU, but let’s examine a few examples of how, if government dollars were spent more effectively, we might be able to minimize the rhetoric.
For example, the minimum wage increase debate is usually cast as a worker vs. business issue. And yes, there are strong sentiments on both sides, but why is there a fear of this proposal and increased labor costs, especially among smaller business owners, who make up a significant segment of the employer base in the state?
Over the past year, has reported several stories on Latino owned businesses. We’ve asked Latino business owners and other experts how are their businesses faring? What would help them? The answer in most cases is they would appreciate assistance from the state in the form of micro-loans. Which is why we ask, is there a disconnect between the state program for this and the fastest growing business segment in Connecticut?
In Bridgeport, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce recently told us, it has been difficult for Latinos to break into the local business arena, particularly with regard to city and state contracts. How are our municipalities doing in awarding contracts equally? Statewide, Dr. Fred McKinney and the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council have fought for several years to change the process on state contracts, citing Connecticut’s dismal record on awarding contracts to minority owned businesses.
Not to simplify politics, but, perhaps, if these business owners were doing well and didn’t have to worry about making ends meet to support their families as well as their workers and their families, such a hard sell on increasing labor costs would not be necessary. Perhaps the state could speed up changes in the process?
Or how about funding for nonprofit organizations? They have seen their budgets slashed as the state’s fiscal situation worsened. Less funding for them combined with increased labor costs will be passed along to the consumer, which means prices will have to increase for summer camps, recreational programs, even swimming lessons, which circles back to the middle class paying more in the end.
So, what we really should be asking is, how can the tax dollars sent to government be better allocated so all residents can be served more efficiently? To change the context of something President Obama said in his speech Wednesday, which applies so well here, “Let’s raise the bar a little higher. Let’s move this country forward.”
Diane Alverio is publisher of, and She lives in New Britain.
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