A protest outside the Legislative Office Building last week. mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org
Gov. Lamont addresses Connecticut merchants. ctmirror.org

Standing before the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association, Gov. Ned Lamont declined to substantively engage Wednesday on a significant issue to retailers: The inability to pay teens a sub-minimum wage for more than 90 days.

Karen Munson, the president of Munson’s Chocolates, asked Lamont to explain what he thought about a youth wage as he shaped the final version of a law that raised the the minimum wage from $10.10 to $11 on Oct. 1 and requires four increases until reaching $15 in 2023.

“Why did you decide against having a youth wage that allows employers to pay anyone under 18 a lower rate, not just for 90 days?” Munson asked. “Do you see paying teenagers who have never been in the workforce up to $15 an hour as a deterrent for an employer to hire, train and mentor young people?”

Lamont first joked that he would be giving out a lot of candy at the Executive Residence on Halloween, and he would be happy to serve Munson’s. “So, if you have any chocolates we’d love to help showcase a great Connecticut product.”

“We do have a sub-minimum wage, is my understanding,” Lamont said.

Connecticut does.

In fact, Lamont is responsible for it still being on the books, a fact he never mentioned Wednesday. The co-chairs of the legislature’s Labor and Public Employees Committee wanted it repealed, but Lamont refused to sign a minimum-wage increase unless a training wage remained in some form.

The issue raised by Munson is hardly a new one, or even unique to Connecticut. President Ronald Reagan tried several times to pass a federal minimum wage law allowing a lower minimum for workers up to age 19. A version offered in 1985 would have allowed $2.50 an hour for workers 16 to 19 years of age, instead of the $3.35 hourly minimum then.

And the idea came up in the 2019 minimum wage debate in Connecticut.

That conversation went something like this: Does a training wage for young workers provide valuable first experiences in the workforce that would be unavailable at the standard minimum? Or is it an incentive for fast-food restaurants and others to discriminate against older workers and exploit young ones?

Connecticut’s law is a provision demanded by Lamont and favored by business: a sub-minimum training wage for workers ages 16 and 17, who can be paid 85 percent of the state minimum for up to 90 days (the limit had been 200 hours).

Lamont tried to and failed to lower the training wage to 75%. He didn’t recount that debate Wednesday, however, or explain why he ultimately settled for the final version.

“Thank you for the opportunity you give to those young people,” Lamont said. “I will make sure that somebody on my team gets back to you with the specifics of what our sub-minimum wage is.”

It was the only question posed by a retailer, and Munson was less than satisfied.

“I’m not sure if he really answered my question,” she said.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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  1. That Q&A lasted only six minutes and no, Ms. Munson you really didn’t get an answer. Kind of an odd performance by the governor; doesn’t really inspire confidence.

  2. Let them eat chocolate. This job-killing bill will put more small businesses at risk and accelerate technology innovations to eliminate jobs. My local supermarket is now eliminating about 1/3 of the checkout lines in favor of self-checkout stations.

    If the $15/hr minimum wage is so awesome, why didn’t we go to $20 or $25/hr? There is no end to the most excellent ideas offered up by our economic brain trust in Hartford.

  3. This is also an issue at summer camps. Young people learn about leadership, hard work, problem solving, and so many other valuable skills.

    The minimum wage will cause price increases that will make camps unaffordable to the average person.

    Hopefully it can be adjusted to allow for youth employment opportunities. Keep the unions out so that a reasonable solution can be reached.

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