Research Argues That Social Safety Net Provides Assistance To Several Connecticut Construction Employees

According to new study from the UCLA Labor Center. There are many construction jobs in Connecticut that don’t pay enough to sustain a family.

The study, “The Public Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Connecticut Construction Industry,” found that 39% of Connecticut construction workers have a family member on at least one of the five largest social safety-net programs: Medicaid subsidized health care, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), welfare cash assistance known as Temporary Aid for Needy Families, earned income tax credit, and SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Each year, Connecticut’s 20,000 construction worker families get $229 million in state and federal funds.

One of the study’s authors, Ken Jacobs, said- “Connecticut reflects what we’re seeing in the rest of the country, which is that a large part of the construction industry is ‘low road’ practices: low pay, few benefits, lots of cash pay and other violations of labor and employment laws,” Jacobs said.

Carpenters’ union lawyer Matt Capece said: “Contractors need to stop subcontracting to crooked businesses that abuse their workers and turn a blind eye to taxpayers who subsidize their poor treatment of the workforce.”

But there are plenty of contractors who “do what they’re supposed to do,” said Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industry Association. “They pay people properly, pay their taxes and provide good benefits.”

“Construction is a highly competitive industry in which projects are frequently awarded on the sole basis of the lowest bid…”

According to a Berkeley research and studies, between 12.4 percent and 20.5 percent of construction employees are either misclassified as independent contractors, which allows employers to avoid giving key benefits and protections, or paid under the table.

“These practices drive a ‘race to the bottom’ in the industry, which degrades job quality and leaves many workers unable to support themselves and their families.”

Said Shubert: “It’s very hard to see really good contractors that do everything right sitting on the sidelines.”

Planned Initiatives-

The construction industry is likely to see a significant increase in employment in the future years as a result of new federal and state financing for infrastructure.

Max Reiss, a spokesperson for Gov. Ned Lamont, issued the following statement: “The Lamont Administration continues to take significant steps to support the construction sector like investing hundreds of millions of dollars in transportation across the state through recent approvals from the state bond commission.”

He also concluded that Lamont “has been out front on the need to put federal funding to work on infrastructure, which will create and support thousands of jobs in our state for things like clean water, green energy, and fixing aging bridges.”

However, according to the Shubert, Payroll certification is required on a regular basis for public works construction projects. As far as misclassification or under-the-table compensation, “you won’t see a lot of this mischief” when it comes to infrastructure projects, he added.

Shubert and others, on the other hand, are afraid that Connecticut’s large-scale infrastructure projects may be delayed.

He also worries that a historic state unemployment reform bill approved with broad support last year might encourage further unethical behavior in the construction industry. The act will raise unemployment taxes for businesses in the construction industry, he concluded.

“If your unemployment taxes are going to double, what do you think some of these people are thinking? It’s like an incentive to misclassify people,” he said, which could lead to more construction workers relying on the social safety net. “It’s just going to make this matter a lot worse,” he added.

Reiss responded: “The unemployment reform we passed last year was supported by members of both parties, organized labor, and the business community. It will shore up the historically underfunded unemployment trust fund for generations, providing certainty to businesses, claimants, and policymakers.”

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