Raise New York’s Minimum Wage

How much money does it take to live in Tompkins County, with its high rents, heating bills and gas prices? Could you live securely on NYS’s minimum wage, $7.25 an hour? A movement is growing across the state to raise that minimum wage; The Tompkins County Workers’ Center is part of that movement. Will you join us?

Raise N.Y.’s minimum wage
By Dan Cantor AND Camille Rivera, Commentary

Imagine what it would be like to live on $300 per week.
That’s just about what nearly 700,000 New York state workers earn, according to the federal Census Bureau. That’s 8 percent of the statewide workforce.

More than a million minimum wage and near-minimum wage workers got raises on Jan. 1 that will help struggling families put food on the table, keep the heat on through the winter, and make ends meet.
None of those families live in New York, however.

The workers who will benefit from a little extra money in their pockets live in the eight states that have chosen to adjust their minimum wage rate annually to meet the rising cost of living. In states as disparate as Florida and Montana, Arizona and Vermont, minimum wage workers will get raises of up to 37 cents an hour, or $770 a year for full-time work. It doesn’t sound like much, but for a family relying on low-wage jobs, it could be a month’s rent.

New Yorkers deserve no less. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver deserves tremendous credit for announcing his support for raising the minimum wage at Wednesday’s State of the State speech. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the rest of the Legislature should act quickly to raise the minimum wage and tie it to inflation to jump-start the Main Street economy.

These modest pay increases for low-wage workers have the potential to boost the local economies where the workers live. When low-wage workers have a little money in their pockets, they spend it on necessities — from winter clothes to school supplies to car repairs.
Boosting spending is precisely what we need to help get our economy moving. According to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, the increased spending resulting from the minimum-wage bumps in those eight states alone will lead to an additional $366 million in economic output and create 3,000 jobs.

Not here. More than 1.6 million New York workers — 18 percent of the workforce — earn less than $10 an hour, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute. These New Yorkers are falling further behind, as the minimum wage is eroded every year by the rising cost of food, gas, rent and, it seems, everything else.

It makes life a little tougher for our state’s lowest earners and drags consumer spending down with it. During the past 40 years, the minimum wage has eroded considerably. If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since the 1960s, it would be more than $10 an hour today.

Our state Legislature hasn’t voted to raise the minimum wage since 2004. As a result, New York’s minimum wage is stuck at the federal minimum wage of just $7.25 an hour — around $15,000 a year for full-time work. It’s tough enough to make ends meet on $15,000 a year in Oklahoma or West Virginia, never mind in Albany or Brooklyn. That’s well below the poverty line for a family of three.
Imagine trying to support a family on that, especially in a high-cost state like ours. Eighteen states have a higher minimum wage.

Declining wages still mean bigger profits for mega-corporations. The largest employers of low-wage workers in America (including Wal-Mart and McDonald’s) are all reporting larger profits, dividends and cash stockpiles than before the recession.

Corporate lobbyists, especially those representing fast food and retail companies, will ruthlessly oppose any increase in the minimum wage. They always do.

Let’s get the facts straight: As a share of GDP, wages and salaries are the lowest they’ve been since the 1950s, and corporate profits are at their highest.

It’s time to rebalance the scales. It’s time for New York to raise and index the minimum wage.

Dan Cantor is the executive director of the Working Families Party. Camille Rivera is the executive director of United NY.