Alternatives Credit Union Announces New Living Wage Standards for Tompkins County

A hardy thanks goes out to the Alternatives Federal Credit Union for their leadership in publishing new Living Wage standards for Tompkins County. At a Press Conference this morning, the new Living Wage for Tompkins County was announced to be $9.83 an hour. The Workers’ Center’s Living Wage Employer Certification program will use that figure; for those employees working 30 hours or more a week who do not have health insurance, the Living Wage will be $11.18/hr. based on Healthy New York cost of health care for a single person in Tompkins).

Below, find Press Release from Alternatives’ Chief Operations Officer, Leni Hochman, about the new standards.For more detailed information, go to


Leni Hochman:

Why does Alternatives Federal Credit Union care about paying a living wage? Won’t the marketplace take care of setting a proper wage? Why pay more than we have to, more than the prevailing wage for an entry level teller position?

The answer is simple: Because it’s the right thing to do.

Alternatives’ mission is to promoting economic justice. We have programs and services designed to help people in this community move out of poverty, to become financially self-sufficient. It follows that we provide our own staff with a fair and just wage. It is economic justice that a worker be paid a living wage, have affordable health care and be treated with dignity.

Relying on the minimum wage set by the federal government is not enough. NYS raised the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.15/hour, a good start, but when you take a look at how much it costs to live in Tompkins County, it becomes clear that you would be hard pressed to do so, without working two or more jobs, receiving public assistance, or living in sub-standard housing.

United States Department of Health and Human Services places the federal poverty level for an individual at $10, 210. Someone earning $7.15 an hour would earn $14,872 gross and that only if they worked a full 40 hours a week, 52 weeks/year. Our study shows it takes $20, 450 (twice the poverty level) for an individual to live in Tompkins County.

Rent is up from $602 to $628 month in 2006, an increase of 4.3%, according to HUD. (Housing and Urban Development)

Food – the USDA publishes the cost of 4 food plans. We use the Low-Cost food plan, one above the Thrifty Food plan, to come up with $180.95/month, a 7.8% increase over two years ago.

Tranportation, an area that I think has huge variations depending on if you drive, bike, walk, what you drive, but in any case, using the same weighted average formula we borrowed from the Wider Opportunities for Women Living Wage study, and plugging in numbers from TCAT and Bureau of Labor Statistics, went up 7.14% to $164.22/month.

We made a change in the Communication line. We decided that Internet has become a necessity, and so we included the cost of DSL which is why that category went up 53.4%. That category now includes figures from Verizon for local calls and DSL and 30 minutes of long distance calls, now costing $56.48/month.

Health Care costs continue to rise dramatically over inflation. It’s up 21%. We allotted $122.62/month or $1471/ year. That figure is derived from an employees share of premium at Alternatives plus out of pocket medical expenses. If an employer doesn’t offer health insurance, the wage would have to be considerably more.

Recreation is a more discretionary area, and unfortunately a place that people cut back as necessities rise. There are so many different items that could go under recreation, and people will spend here based on their own interests: cable TV, sound equipment, books & magazines, movies, sports, joining a gym, going out to a movie. We believe that quality of life has to include recreation, and we’ve allotted $100/month.

Savings is adjusted for inflation which was 6.67% according to BLS for th is period, making it $56/month. Our study may be the only study that include savings, but it’s central to our mission to promote savings. Savings can be for a long term goal, to acquire an asset – or it can be to avoid crisis when the unplanned occurs.

Under Miscellaneous there are clothes, personal care items, small applicances and housewares. I’m sure there a a lot of other things that could fall here, but we go to Claritas Consumer Spending Patterns for these updated figures, which actually went down 3.7% to $105/month since two years ago.

Add in payroll, federal and state Taxes, for a grand total of $20,450, what we consider a livable wage in Tompkins County.

It’s always interesting to hear people’s reactions to some of these numbers. They range from, “I live on a lot less than that” to “No way that’s a livable wage.” One staff person commented that $180/month for food seemed way too low. That’s $41.50/week. $6/day. True, not very much.

There are certainly ways people can spend less. Cut rent by getting a room mate. Carpool, or dump the car and walk or bike. Stay healthy. Unfortunately, there are far more ways to spend more. Transportation? Just hope your car doesn’t break down. Health care? It’s reasonable until you need a crown on your tooth. And what if you have a dependent? In order to add in the cost of day care, you’d have to limit other expenditures a lot. Or get public assistance or help from family.

Alternatives is proud to be a living wage employer. Our Board has committed to paying staff the living wage for an individual. We hope all employers in Tompkins County and beyond agree that it’s their responsibility to fairly compensate the employees that enable their businesses to operate – and that a fair wage is, at minimum, a living wage.

In closing, I’d like to express my appreciation to the Alternatives Federal Credit Union Board of Directors for their commitment to paying staff a living wage; I’d like to thank GreenStar for paying a living wage in an industry that has a very small margin, making it that much more difficult, and I’d like to thank the Tompkins Workers’ Center for their work in educating the public and business community on the virtues and benefits of paying a living wage.