Category Archives: Employment

Connecticut’s $10.10 Minimum Wage: Adjusted For Inflation, We’ve Been Here Five Times Before

by Categorized: Data, Employment, Finance, Government, Poverty Date:

Connecticut is making national news with legislation boosting the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour beginning in 2017. With Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s planned signature on the bill Thursday evening, the Nutmeg State becomes the first in the nation to agree to eventually knock through the $10 mark for the lowest-paid workers.

But adjusted for inflation, we’ve topped $10.10 before – albeit not for several decades. As the chart below shows, the hourly minimum wage, in 2014 dollars, exceeded $10.10 in 1968, 1969, 1971, 1972 and 1978. The top rate was in 1968, when the inflation-adjusted minimum was $10.78.

The $10.10 wage is, however, significantly higher than the average inflation-adjusted minimum wage over the last 63 years. Since 1951, the lowest-paid workers have earned an average of $8.39 in today’s dollars.

So $10.10 isn’t the most Connecticut employers have been required to pay, and it certainly isn’t the least. And that alone will assure the topic remains controversial and politically divisive.

CT_Minimum Wage

A Sunshine Week Question: Why Are Evaluations of Public University Professors Kept Secret?

by Categorized: Education, Employment, Government, Law Enforcement, Media, Public Safety, Transparency/FOI, UConn Date:

I began teaching a journalism class at Central Connecticut State University this semester, with the taxpayers and students’ families picking up the tab for my modest salary. At some point, I imagine the school will evaluate my performance, and when that happens, it will be the official policy of the state legislature that it’s none of the taxpayers’ business whether I’m doing a great job or a crummy job.

If you teach in a public school in Connecticut, from Kindergarten to a Ph.D. program, state law deems that records of your “performance and evaluation” are off-limits to the public that pays your salary. I was given a stark reminder of that today, just as transparency advocates are wrapping up “Sunshine Week,” a national campaign highlighting the importance of open government.

Today happened to be the day I was provided with a large number of documents I had requested from the University of Connecticut, which included the draft of a review of Robert Miller, the former UConn music professor now under the microscope for allegations of sexual misconduct that spanned decades.

The evaluation runs 28 pages – 19 of which have been blacked out completely, and the rest of which have no more than a sentence or two visible. There is a list of “Dr. Miller’s Strengths” and another of “Dr. Miller’s Weaknesses” – but they have been almost entirely blacked out. There is a section marked “Comments from the Faculty” – immediately followed by a page and a half of black boxes. Under “PERSONALITY ISSUES,” the report notes that neither the review committee members nor those interviewed are trained psychologists, but the rest of section, taking up nearly two pages, is completely redacted.

This isn’t the university getting overly exuberant with a magic marker; it’s just following the law.

As I’ve written before, a move to keep teacher evaluations secret began 30 years, resulting in the passage of a law titled “Nondisclosure of records of teacher performance and evaluation,” which made teacher evaluations in local public schools exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Legislators were persuaded that parents would use evaluations to shop for the best teachers and pressure schools to place their children accordingly – though every parent I’ve ever talked to already knows who the great teachers are in their schools.

And even while the bill was pitched as a way to prevent teacher-shopping, the final language covered all professional staff in a public K-12 school except the superintendent. Assistant superintendents, principals, librarians – all covered by the law putting their performance evaluations off limits.

Before long, that sort of secrecy started looking good to those in higher education. And in 1989, a similar statute was put on the books blocking public access to performance records for the faculty and professional staff at UConn, the state university system and the state’s technical colleges.

And that’s why the document below is mostly black boxes.

Transparency advocates would like to change that. I’ll start with my eval. If and when CCSU gauges my performance, I’ll be happy to send a copy to anyone interested in reading it.

In Connecticut Schools, Strange Law Fosters Strange Secrecy

by Categorized: Education, Employment, First Amendment, Government, Non-profits, Politics, Transparency/FOI, Uncategorized Date:

The folks who run the state university and college system have decided to reward top performers by taking more than half a million dollars in taxpayer funds and distributing it as merit raises to some or all of 279 eligible managers and administrators.

And as my colleague Kathy Megan reported, education officials are declining, for now at least, to tell the public which of the public’s employees have been awarded additional chunks of the public’s money. In fact, they say, it would violate state law to do so.

That assertion has not been tested by the Freedom of Information Commission or the courts. topsecretBut it is the latest strange outcome of a strange series of laws that have kept taxpayers in the dark about teacher evaluations for nearly 30 years.

It began, somewhat fittingly, in 1984, with the passage of a law titled “Nondisclosure of records of teacher performance and evaluation,” which made teacher evaluations in local public schools exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The law was pitched, in the words of a later court case, as a way to “prevent parents from ‘teacher shopping’ in public schools by looking at evaluations and then demanding that their children be placed with one specific teacher.”

Remember before 1984, when hordes of parents would crowd into Main Offices across the state, poring over every 2nd Grade teachers’ evals before demanding that their child’s schedule be customized accordingly?

Me neither.

Parents, of course, have never needed to scour performance reviews to know who the great teachers are in their schools. But even if tamping down on teacher-shopping were the true intent of the law, let’s dig a little deeper into the statutory language. The law protects “records of teacher performance and evaluation.” But the legislature then added this bit of linguistic gymnastics: “For the purposes of this section, ‘teacher’ includes each certified professional employee below the rank of superintendent.”

This, presumably, was intended to stem the epidemic of parents engaging in principal-shopping and librarian-shopping and assistant-superintendent-shopping, as all of their performance evaluations were placed off-limits as well.

The bottom line of that strangely expansive language is that in a state with more than 51,000 certified public-school educators, the people of Connecticut are entitled to review the performance of exactly 166 of them.

The 1984 law covered only K-12 schools. But that didn’t last.

Five years later, professors in the state’s higher education system decided they’d like the same sort of confidentiality enjoyed by their elementary and high school colleagues. So a nearly identically worded statute was put on the books blocking public access to performance records for the faculty and professional staff at UConn, the state university system and the state’s technical colleges.

It is unlikely that law was passed to prevent students from “professor-shopping” and trying to secure a spot with the best teachers, since that is exactly what students do when registering for classes in college.

In the current controversy, the state will ultimately reveal which employees received merit raises and in what amounts; at worst, that information will be deducible once new paychecks – which are public records – start going out.

But if you were curious, for example, about what any particular employee did to earn, say, the maximum merit increase, then sorry – it’s the official policy of the state of Connecticut that taxpayers have no business asking.

310 Million Americans. Three Dozen Fun Facts.

by Categorized: Census, Data, Education, Employment, Politics Date:

Housing values are down. Household sizes are up. Marriages are down. Unemployment is up. Manufacturing is down. College degrees are up.

Annual estimates from the Census Bureau in hundreds of categories became publicly releasable early this morning, and my colleague Mara Lee has a story looking at how Connecticut is getting older – but not appreciably faster than the nation as a whole, suggesting concerns about an aging workforce may be unduly alarmist.

Beyond those big-picture tales hiding in the numbers, however, there are scores of interesting data points capturing the gradual shifts and natural waves of a fluid society. Below are three dozen selected Census figures for the United States and Connecticut, showing the 2012 figures just released and figures for the same categories in 2008, along with the percent change for both the national and state figures.

The numbers, drawn from the American Community Survey, an annual sampling of the nation’s 310 million residents, paint a numerical tapestry of the country through questions on labor, housing, income, ancestry, education and even what portion of the labor force walks to work. (2.8 percent nationwide; 3 percent in Connecticut).

To dig into countless gigabytes of other Census Bureau data, log on to American Factfinder, the bureau’s online search tool.

Did Fuzzy Math Cheat East Hartford’s Mayor Out of a $1,000 Raise?

by Categorized: Data, Employment, Government Date:

The mayor of East Hartford hasn’t had a raise in nearly five years. So a few weeks ago, the town council voted to boost the pay for the top job from $81,400 to a little over $87,000 – a jump intended to partly account for inflation since the salary was last adjusted in 2008.

Town officials justified the bump-up in pay by saying the cost of living had gone up 13.89 percent since the mayor’s last raise – a figure that seemed awfully high and prompted the nerd squad here at The Scoop to grab our holster-mounted calculators and dig into the numbers.

Bottom line No. 1: There’s a good reason the inflation rate sounded so high. While the pay was last increased in 2008, that raise merely caught the mayor up to the cost of living through 2005. So the action last month was intended to soften the effect of inflation for the years 2006 through 2012, and the town was calculating seven years’ worth of inflation, not five.

Bottom Line No. 2 – and the far more interesting bottom line: For the 2006-2012 time frame, according to The Scoop’s analysis, a miscalculation had the town using too low a figure for inflation, shortchanging the mayor by a cool grand and then some.

Here’s how the numbers break out. Warning: math ahead.

Continue reading

The Kishimoto Meeting – Behind Closed Doors, but Why?

by Categorized: Education, Employment, Transparency/FOI Date:

Among the criticisms the Hartford Board of Education heaped on Superintendent Christina Kishimoto was a concern over her communication skills, knocking her for what they said was a failure to keep the board and parents in the loop as she made decisions. Board members said she needed to do better, and she promised she would.

But when Kishimoto and the board got together Tuesday night for a meeting that would decide the future of herHartford Superintendent of Schools Christina Kishimoto tenure – and the future direction of the state’s second-largest school district – both sides made a familiar retreat behind closed doors, leaving parents once again in the dark.

It’s all legal. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act permits – but does not require – agencies to hold executive sessions to discuss “the appointment, employment, performance, evaluation, health or dismissal of a public officer or employee.” Tuesday’s gathering, at which the board unanimously voted against extending Kishimoto’s contract, certainly met that criteria. But why choose to shut out parents and other members of the public?

Operating out of the public eye promotes a level of candor revered by those in government. But the officials who assembled Tuesday night should remember that their primary duty is to the people of Hartford, and they should resist any urge to have one level of honesty for the public and an enhanced level of honesty that comes out only in private.

Tuesday’s vote was not a surprise, and both Kishimoto and various board members have been transparent in expressing their views. This was not a shady back-room deal. But when the conflict between the board and Kishimoto reached a crescendo with a closed meeting that stretched longer than 90 minutes, those involved seemed to lose sight of an important adage: that in a democracy, the people’s business really is the people’s business.

To a Hartford resident, the schools superintendent may be the most important official in the city. The decision on whether she stays or goes is a big deal. So memo to all involved: Next time there’s a discussion as significant as Tuesday night’s, consider leaving the doors open and letting the real bosses see what’s being done on their behalf.

More and More U.S. Clothes Are Made by Bangladeshi Workers Earning Pennies an Hour

by Categorized: Business, Consumer Affairs, Data, Employment, Finance, Politics, Poverty Date:

U.S. consumers horrified by the tragic building collapse in Bangladesh might want to check the manufacturer’s label on the clothing they’re wearing; data show the compact nation is now the fourth-largest source of apparel imported into the U.S., delivering $4.5 billion a year in goods.

That’s more than double the amount imported from Bangladesh a decade ago, and in that same time frame, Bangladesh’s share of the U.S. apparel market has nearly doubled as well. In 2003, Bangladesh ranked 10th among nations supplying the United States, with 3 percent of all apparel imports, Department of Commerce numbers show. But as manufacturers have sought ever-lower labor costs, that figure has jumped to 5.8 percent.

The shift in manufacturing to Bangladesh comes as wages are rising slowly in other apparel-producing countries, including China. Pay in Bangladesh increased three years ago as well, but the minimum wage for garment workers in the country is still about $38 a month.

Efforts to increase that amount have met resistance from factory owners and government officials, who fear even a small uptick in wages will lead Western brands to look elsewhere for suppliers.

Claim Check: PACs Take on Linda McMahon and Social Security

by Categorized: Claim Check, Employment, Politics Date:

There is something of a hierarchy in political ad nastiness.

The tamest ads – and yes, this is entirely relative – typically come from the candidates themselves, who have at least a modest disinclination to appear overly vicious.

Ads from political parties push the envelope a little farther, taking on topics or themes the candidates may be reluctant to directly address.

And then there are the PACs, which work independently of the candidates – at least officially – and which show little hesitation to get in the mud and start slinging it around.

That’s what we see in a new ad from a pair of PACs opposing Linda McMahon’s candidacy for U.S. Senate. The 30-second spot takes a line McMahon said during a candidate’s forum last April, and twists it to create a narrative that doesn’t exist in support of a political charge that has no base. Continue reading

Claim Check: Linda McMahon on Middle-Class Taxes and Job Creation

by Categorized: Claim Check, Data, Employment, Finance, Politics Date:

If there is one topic on which the candidates for U.S. Senate in Connecticut have most consistently confused voters, it is the issue of federal income taxes. And Republican Linda McMahon continues that trend with a television ad revisiting familiar ground on taxes as well as job creation.

“On key issues, compare the candidates,” the narrator instructs. “On cutting middle-class taxes, Linda McMahon’s plan saves the average Connecticut family $500 a month. But Congressman Chris Murphy voted to raise middle-class taxes three times.”

We’ve evaluated — and challenged — the first part of that assertion multiple times, but the campaign continues to make the claim, albeit with slight modifications. For the record, under no scenario does McMahon’s plan save the average Connecticut family $500 a month, and there are two flaws with the campaign’s calculation. Continue reading

Claim Check: In Senate Race, One-Two Punch from the Democrats

by Categorized: Claim Check, Employment, Finance, Media, Politics Date:

Chris Murphy’s drastically out-financed bid for U.S. Senate is enjoying fresh reinforcements from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has committed $320,000 in advertising aimed at Murphy’s opponent, Linda McMahon.

What does this mean for voters? Well, this morning it meant not one, but two new attack ads on the airwaves. One is from the national committee; the other directly from Murphy. Both take on past targets, criticizing McMahon’s record as CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment as well as the details of her income tax plan. And both repeat statements likely to confuse viewers. Continue reading